ATLANTA — Like their counterparts in other metropolitan areas, wholesalers on the Atlanta State Farmers Market in Forest Park like to distribute local and regional produce.

They report growing demand.

Rising fuel costs help encourage demand for produce grown closer to home, said Nickey Gregory, president and owner of Nickey Gregory Co. LLC.

“As the price of fuel soared this past winter, some south Georgia growers grew lettuce for us that they’d never done in the past,” he said.

The shortage of water in California is contributing to increasing demand for local produce, said David Collins III, president of Phoenix Wholesale Foodservice Inc., in Forest Park.

“If we can grow items locally, it makes sense because transportation is a major cost of getting fresh produce moved,” he said.

“If we can reduce the cost of transportation by using local product, you’re doing everyone a favor.”

In the past, distributors would supply local produce but there wasn’t much awareness of where it was grown, Collins said.

Today, however, there’s a larger interest in it and people want to promote the local items and more chefs and culinary establishments want to increase their offerings of local products, Collins said.

Local produce demand shows little signs of abating, said Robert Poole, director of sales for Forest Park-based Athena Farms.

 

Challenges

One difficulty with sourcing local product, however, remains truthfulness in advertising.

The websites of some shippers display product as “local,” but the cartons the shippers send to the wholesalers reveal otherwise, Poole said.

“There should be more truth in advertising (laws) because sometimes, people are disingenuous,” he said. “The sites will say they have ‘this and this’ but the product is all coming from Mexico.”

Another difficulty with carrying local items is once a supplier develops a market or demand for local, it’s hard to fill it once the local season ends and product isn’t available locally, Poole said.

“These guys (the customers) are expecting asparagus 52 weeks out of the year,” he said. “When you tell them Georgia only does asparagus three weeks out of the year and it’s an inferior product, it’s not a winning situation.”

More customers are requesting local produce, said Diana Earwood, vice president and general manager of the produce division of Sutherland’s Foodservice Inc., and general manager of the Forest Park-based Destiny Organics LLC.

“Buyers first ask for local, regional second and then what’s left,” she said.

Local demand remains strong but is limited and only during a short window, said Cliff Sherman, owner of Sunbelt Produce Distributors Inc., in Forest Park.

“Demand is about the same,” he said. “When local’s hitting, they (the buyers) want local. You tend to jump on the local bandwagon when local hits.”

The local movement ties into sustainability interest, said Brian Young, vice president of Coosemans Atlanta Inc.

“We try to be supportive of our local growers in the area where we can,” he said. “You have to keep a balance and stay in touch with your regular suppliers throughout the year and not go with one extreme to another, turning one source on and one source off. That’s not good business.”