PHILADELPHIA — The local produce movement isn’t anything new to distributors on the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market.
The wholesalers have distributed regionally grown produce for years.
Through family partnerships and mergers, every business in the new market can trace itself directly to the city’s original produce marketplace on Dock Street.
That market, which served as the main fresh produce distribution hub, purchased local produce grown by farmers from up and down the Delaware River Valley who brought their product to Philadelphia by boat.
“Regional produce has always been here in season,” said Chip Wiechec, president of Hunter Bros. Inc., whose roots go back to the Dock Street market in 1938.
“Other than apples and stone fruit and some of the Western vegetables, probably 60% to 80% of our product is grown within 200 miles. We have a lot of customers who don’t need us for corn or other items because farmers are bringing it to them, so it’s kind of a Catch-22 situation. But you can’t avoid the local produce.”
Local has become a big topic of conversation throughout the industry and country, said John Vena Jr., president of John Vena Inc. and chairman of the market’s marketing committee.
Consumers sometimes have false ideas about local sourcing, he said.
“There are a lot of people that confuse the word local and direct,” Vena said. “They insist on buying direct from local producers, forgetting you can buy local from wholesalers like those on the market. It doesn’t cease to be local just because it’s physically located here in Philadelphia. It’s still local.”
In the heart of Lancaster County production, Ephrata-based Four Seasons Produce Inc. remains ideally situated near much of the region’s locally grown produce.
“People want product closer to home,” said Ron Carkoski, president and chief executive officer. “They want to understand it. The consumer is educated to know if it’s locally grown here, it should be picked right and taste better.”
The new produce market helps maintain the quality of the local grown products, said Todd Penza, salesman with Pinto Bros. Inc.
“It comes in at the proper temperature and the new refrigeration helps maintain that quality,” Penza said. “I think more small farmers and the big ones will want to sell their produce here. We will be much more attractive and be the center where the customers come to buy local produce.”