(July 22) WASHINGTON, D.C. — Politics and produce do mix in the nation’s capital.
Produce dealers in the area acknowledge there are certain advantages to doing business so close to the heart of the U.S. government.

“We probably get more tourism than some of the other markets,” said Tony Vitrano, president of the Tony Vitrano Co., a wholesaler in nearby Jessup, Md. “In fact, it probably helps us with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, because whenever they’re starting a new program, for, like, their market inspectors, they tend to start here because it’s close to their base of operations. So it sort of helps, because if we need to talk to them, it’s a lot easier to give them a call than it is for somebody on the other side of the country, I guess.”

Produce-promoting organizations, such as the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, the Produce Marketing Association and the International Fresh-cut Produce Association, also have their headquarters in the region.

“Some people from PMA stopped by here last Tuesday,” Vitrano said. “So we know the people there, probably, a little better than maybe some of the other people would.”

John Gates, founder and owner of Lancaster Foods Inc., Jessup, concurred that produce industry leaders sometimes get a chance to see terminal market activity first-hand at the market.
“There are advocates here, and they visit here occasionally,” he said.

Kevin Keany, president of Keany Produce Co., a Landover, Md.-based foodservice distributor, said being in the virtual shadow of the Capitol is a boon to business.

“I think it’s huge to our business,” Keany said. “Everyone in good times and in bad comes to Washington. They’re coming to Washington to fight for their cause, to talk to their congressman.”

The causes don’t matter because everyone has to eat, Keany said.

“We just opened a new convention center downtown, and when lobbyists are working and these groups are coming to town, it doesn’t make any difference what their cause is,” he said. “They’re filling up hotels. You just can’t imagine how much produce we sell.”

It’s also a double-edged situation, Keany said.

“When 300,000 people converge on Washington, it creates a problem,” he said. “Logistically, it’s a nightmare. But there’s a lot of people that are coming to these conferences. They’re going to find a restaurant.”

Some produce dealers do big business with hotels in Washington, so such visitors are of particular interest, said Mike Davis, sales manager of Coastal Sunbelt Co. Inc., a Hanover, Md.-based distributor.

But Davis also noted that doing that kind of business has its potential pitfalls.

“With some of the hotels we service in central city, trucks have had to park and drivers hand-truck product three blocks,” he said. “Then, they come back and find parking tickets on the truck.”