A group of more than 50 attended the Jan. 25 Wholesale Market Stakeholder Meeting in Washington, D.C. ( USDA )

From local food to food safety regulations, a lot of ground was covered in a meeting that brought together federal officials and wholesale market leaders.

The Jan. 25 meeting at the U.S. Department of Agriculture offices in Washington, D.C., was organized by the National Association of Produce Market Managers and the United Fresh Produce Association. 

The all-day meeting had 50 attendees and featured discussions about the future of terminal markets, said Miriam Wolk, vice president of member services for United Fresh.

USDA’s promotion of local food hubs in recent years was confusing to many wholesale market managers who believed wholesale markets were already serving that role, said Donald Darnall, executive director of the Maryland Food Center Authority. Some felt that the USDA was abandoning the markets and putting focus on small farmers, he said. 

The meeting featured good conversations about the issue, Darnall said, with attendees talking about how markets and merchants could better meet the needs of local farmers and possibly work with local food hubs. 

Market managers, he said, need to pay attention to their merchants’ customers in order to give them services they need. Merchants and local food suppliers need to get a reasonable return on their investment, Darnall said. 

The meeting helped rebuild the partnership between wholesale markets and the USDA, said Rose Harrell, president of the market association

“I think it was an absolute success,” she said. “USDA wants to be a good partner.”

She said market managers heard about grant and loan opportunities that may be available to them through USDA programs.


Track record

The USDA’s involvement with wholesale markets goes back decades.

Arthur Neal, deputy administrator for Transportation and Marketing at the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, said the AMS contributed engineering and design assistance to help create wholesale markets in the 1950s.

“As markets have evolved and gotten bigger, the relationship wasn’t as necessary from the standpoint of their needing our help as much,” Neal said. “The markets are still evolving and we here at AMS still desire to have a closer working relationship with the wholesale markets.”

The meeting featured officials from other federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Complying with food safety regulations was discussed, he said.

“There were questions from market managers about the applications of the new (food safety) requirements and how they apply to the market and they had an opportunity to get some questions answered,” Neal said. 

Ron Batcher, an architect with the Agricultural Marketing Service, said the USDA can assist aging wholesale markets look at options for updating and repairing their facilities.

Neal said USDA officials look forward to connecting again with the wholesale market trade.

“We believe in building relationships and trying to provide services to folks helping them solve problems,” he said.