Demand for locally grown grows in Boston

03/30/2010 11:20:05 AM
Andy Nelson

CHELSEA, Mass. — The locally grown movement, while not as strong as in other corners of the produce industry, is alive and well on the Boston terminal markets.

Coosemans Boston Inc. has high hopes for a new product that taps into the organic and the locally grown trends, said Maurice Crafts, a salesman for the company.

Solstice Salads, a product of Maine, are packed in 5-ounce clamshells and come in four varieties, all of which Coosemans carries — spring mix, arugula, spinach and romaine.

Out of season, product comes in from the West Coast and is packed in Maine, Crafts said. In season, it’s grown and packed in Maine.

“We’re very excited by this,” he said. “We plan on capitalizing on the locally grown and the organic with it.”

Though Crafts is probably more excited by the “local” aspect than the “organic.”

“Local is as strong if not a stronger trend than organic right now,” he said. “We’re not going out our way to have organic.”

Some items — English peas in late February, for instance — shipped to Coosemans organic, but not because Crafts requested organic English peas.

“It’s just how they came in,” he said.

Another big local-grown seller for Coosemans are foodservice microgreen clamshells, packed with produce grown in greenhouses in Franklin, Mass., just outside Boston, Crafts said.

In season, the company also sources Massachusetts-grown bok choy and other Chinese vegetables, Crafts said.

It may sound like a paradox, but The Alphas Co. is hoping to take its new Asian and Indian vegetable program, now in its second year, more local, said Yanni Alphas, the company’s president and chief executive officer.

“It’s an experiment this year,” he said. “We’re trying to get local growers to grow some of our Asian and Indian items.”

Ideally, Massachusetts growers the company sources from would “try to grow a little bit of everything,” Alphas said.

A variety of eggplants and squashes are among the top sellers in the line, he said.

On the more conventional side, the Alphas Co. sources romaine, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, cucumber, squash and other vegetable items from Massachusetts growers in-season, Alphas said. And New Hampshire growers supply the company with apples, he said.

Alphas has one theory for the growth of the locally-grown movement. Think “sub-prime” and “housing crisis.”

“Housing development has stopped,” he said. “Farmers aren’t selling as much of their land for houses, and they’re getting back into farming.”

In 2008, Lisitano Produce Inc. hired grower Arnold Amidan to lead its burgeoning locally-grown program. Amidan’s biggest local seller is apples grown in Massachu-setts, New Hampshire and New York.

The company ships mcintoshes, red and golden delicious, empires, galas and other varieties, typically into June, he said.

“I’m getting more shippers who want to ship to me,” he said. “I’ve had to tell some of them I can’t. You can only sell so many apples in Boston.”

“They keep moving,” owner Frank Lisitano said on a late February day in which four pallets of locally grown storage apples shipped out of the Lisitano ware-house.

And it’s not just apples, Amidan said.

“Last year we sold lots and lots of peaches,” he said, citing growers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

In season, Amidon also sells corn, squash, vine-ripe tomatoes and other vegetables grown in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Maine.

Peter Condakes Co. Inc. is looking for a local supplier of grape and plum tomatoes from July 15 to Oct. 1, said Peter John Condakes, the company’s president.

 High freight costs from the West Coast are one of the main reasons Peter Condakes Co. is seeking a source closer to home, Condakes said.

One sticking point, he said, is volume.

“Some of our customers have said that if we could find a big enough guy, they would do it,” he said. “I’m sure there’s someone out there. I just haven’t found him yet.”

Another sticking point is food safety. Locally grown is well and good, Condakes said, but the same customers who want local also demand strict food safety protocols — something, he said, it’s not always as easy for local growers to comply with as it is for major grower-shippers.

BC Produce Inc. doesn’t deal directly with growers as local as Massachusetts, New Hampshire or another neighboring state, but the company does source a significant number of potatoes from nearby Quebec and apples from New York, said Sam Rocco, the com-pany’s president.

Even as nearby as Massachusetts, there’s still a prejudice in favor of Washington-grown apples, Rocco said.  And while that attitude may been more warranted in the past, it’s less so now.

“I think the New York apple industry is really growing up,” he said. “They’re getting better and better. I like New York galas better than Washington galas.”

Red delicious is another New York-grown variety that’s seen marked improvement, Rocco said.

Still, not all East Coast consumers are convinced, he said.

“People feel like they should pay less for New York,” he said. “And Washington could be (up to) 40% higher and they’d still take them.”



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