The nearly 140-year-old San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market has discovered its fountain of youth.
The market has initiated aggressive outreach efforts, an equally aggressive recycling program and even joined the social media fraternity — all of this just a few years after rumors of pending extinction.
The market is nearing a new lease on life — literally — and will soon embark on multimillion dollar improvement projects that include an expansion. The market has completed the required environmental reviews and other necessary entitlements, said Michael Janis, general manager.
“The last piece is a new ground lease with the city of San Francisco,” he said. “The schedule has us bringing that to the city’s legislative process in early 2012.”
The expansion property is adjacent to the existing market, Janis said.
No major hurdles are foreseen to finalizing the new lease. The city has been very supportive, Janis said.
New to the market office is a business development and customer liaison director.
“Our goal is to have someone out beyond the market connecting the market with existing customers and potential customers,” Janis said.
That the Salinas and San Joaquin valleys are within a couple of hours of driving time is one of the market’s greatest strengths and liabilities.
“One of our challenges is the double-edged sword of being so close to growing regions,” Janis said.
The proximity of the valleys tends to encourage direct buys from grower-shippers, he said.
“We must get out there and articulate the value of the market.” Janis said.
Yet another of the market’s outreach legs of late focuses on introducing the market to policymakers and others who may not be familiar with the market.
“It has been interesting to see the recognition that the markets really do play an infrastructure role,” Janis said. “It really resonates.”
The market’s green effort is saving merchants $150,000 annually in carting costs, Janis said. The merchants operate independently, but the market office is the coordinator that has pushed the market’s diversion rate above 80%, he said.
Shrink wrap is baled and sent overseas to a recycler. Plastic corner boards go to a recycler in Georgia. Plastic bean crates are used by other merchants for deliveries. The newest of the recycling efforts sends the market’s Styrofoam-type waste to yet another recycler.
Another green project that’s gaining traction is using alternative fuels for the delivery fleets, a movement spearheaded by Earl Herrick, owner of Earl’s Organic Produce. The hurdle, Herrick said, is overcoming the resistance of the company from which he leases the truck.