With Philadelphia's close geographic proximity to major East Coast growing regions, the city's produce wholesalers are in a favorable position to distribute local produce to the area's many retail and foodservice customers.

New Jersey, the Garden State, is across the Delaware River from the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market and other areas, including Maryland, Delaware and New York, are short drives.

Christine Hofmann, the market's marketing coordinator, said local produce remains a key product offering for many of the market's wholesalers.

"Local is always on everyone's mind," she said. "With the area we're in, we are always getting fresh produce from local farmers during the season. It's really an important part of our business. As more people learn about the market, it's very important to our customers to buy local."

Local is a key focus for Philadelphia's Procacci Bros Sales Corp., said Mike Maxwell, president.

If a wholesaler can supply customers with fresh product, it tends to move, he said.

The distributor sources local produce on a regional basis, from nearby and other growing regions in Canada, Ohio, Maryland and Virginia, including leafy greens and peaches.

"We are pushing a lot of local items," Maxwell said. "The quality is good and customers are enjoying it. We have many long years of dealings with these local growers. We can save our customers some freight and give them value. It's a different time of year which is fun for us."

Procacci markets local product through a local section at its headquarters building and in its market stall.

It also positions a buyer at the New Jersey produce auction in Vineland, N.J.

Mark Levin, co-owner of the Philadelphia-based M. Levin & Co Inc., credits the state agriculture departments in New Jersey and Pennsylvania for pushing and promoting local produce.

"As far as I'm concerned, they made this deal," he said. "Local is a big-volume deal. When you hear 'local' now, everyone's ears perk up and they look around. You can't stand on the sidelines in that deal. You have to provide your customers what they want."

With the Food Safety Modernization Act, a tremendous amount of work needs to be doing to ensure all growers follow Good Agricultural Practices and properly handle product, said Ron Carkoski, president and CEO of Four Seasons Produce Inc. in Ephrata, Pa.

"The demand for local continues and is tremendous," he said. "Local taught us as an industry that we need to teach consumers more about the development and growing of fruit and vegetables. People want to know where their food comes from, who produces it, and how it's produced."

Local remains a big calling card but many buyers know when the season hits and don't inquire where the product is grown, said Chip Wiechec, president of Hunter Bros. Inc. in Philadelphia.

"Local is getting to be a bigger topic," he said.

Wiechec points to the many garden rooftops in New York and the large amount of leafy greens being grown in greenhouses.

"It's really interesting how the dynamic of local has changed," he said. "There's all kinds of crazy opportunities for people to grow product and keep it local and keep it fresh."

Additionally, many grower-shippers that supply wholesalers local product are also calling on the distributor's customers, Wiechec said.

Martin Roth, secretary-treasurer of Coosemans Philadelphia Inc., notes that same factor.

The company doesn't handle much local product.

"New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, they all grow the same commodities," he said. "You're competing against the farmer. If you sell a person 100 boxes of peppers, that person is looking to sell 100 boxes and eliminate you when you go after that end-user. It's very competitive."

 
Comments