Perhaps no region epitomizes locally grown and sustainably grown produce like the San Francisco Bay area.
“We have a big advantage,” said Beto Gomez, head salesman for Carcione’s Fresh Produce Co. Inc. at the Golden Gate Produce Terminal in South San Francisco. “This whole area is loaded with produce.”
Watsonville and Salinas, 100 miles or so away, have fresh fruits and vegetables eight or nine months out of the year, he said.
Many customers specifically request local produce, he added.
“The Bay Area has been the epicenter of the local food movement,” said Michael Janis, general manager of the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market.
Because of their proximity to the growing region, area merchants were building relationships with local growers of all sizes long before locally grown became a trend.
Earl’s Organic Produce on the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market supports local growers and buys a lot of their product, said owner-president Earl Herrick. He said terminal markets may not be the most lucrative outlets for locally grown produce.
Growers may be able to get a better price by taking their product directly to restaurants or farmers markets.
“That way, they can sell product that is not necessarily up to market standards in appearance and get top dollar for it,” he said.
“(Local product) is something we focus on,” said Eric Patrick, director of marketing for Grant J. Hunt Co., Oakland, Calif.
The company wants to make its customers aware that it offers local produce.
“We have a Grant J. Hunt Local logo to let people know that we are representing California products,” Patrick said.
A Silicon Valley high-tech company and customer of Orange, Calif.-based Interfresh Inc. wants only California-grown tomatoes year-round for its employee cafeteria, said Cory Puentes, director of Northern California for Interfresh.
“Price is not a factor,” he said.
Locally grown has become a major theme throughout the industry and for many Interfresh customers.
“We do what we can to make sure we’re distributing the product they request in those programs,” Puentes said.
Late spring, summer and early fall is the peak of the locally grown season in Northern California, he said.
At Greenleaf Produce on the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, Dale Van Matre, director of purchasing, said consumers today are more concerned with local produce than they are with organically grown product.
“The buzzword used to be organic,” he said. “Now it’s local.”
Restaurants, especially the white tablecloth variety, like to impress diners with locally grown specialty items that differentiate their eatery from the one across the street, said Frank Ballentine, vice president at Greenleaf.
Many restaurateurs know the local farmers by name, Van Matre said.
But Gomez said buyers shouldn’t overemphasize the value of locally grown produce.
“We (also) get beautiful stuff out of New Zealand, Chile and Mexico,” he said. “Without these areas, we wouldn’t be eating.”