Interest in locally grown and regionally grown produce appears to be increasing in Atlanta.

The metropolitan region remains in close proximity to regional deals in south Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and north and south Florida.

“Everyone’s interested in locally grown,” said Diana Earwood, vice president of Sutherland’s Foodservice Inc., Atlanta. “Everyone’s much more interested in receiving that data than they were before.”

Earwood said the foodservice broadliner, which emphasizes Georgia-grown commodities and produce grown in surrounding states, considers local or regional grown produce to be anything within a day’s ride. 

That definition encompasses North Carolina sweet potatoes.

“People are focused on the support they give to their local economies, to local farmers and to agriculture as a whole in the state,” she said.

Despite the buzz surrounding the concept, Earwood said buyers should keep in mind that regionally grown produce isn’t necessarily less expensive, but still contributes to the regional economy.

Though Forest Park, Ga.-based Phoenix Wholesale Foodservice Inc. has long sold local and regionally grown produce, David Collins III, president, said the industry is seeing more interest in the movement as buyers recognize that the country’s fossil fuels and resources are not unlimited.

No extremes

“I think local grown is a great thing if it’s not taken to extreme,” Collins said.

“Some want certain things all the time when not every locale is in production with everything you need. You have to put reasonable limits on what you do and you can’t demand someone have something year-round when it’s not available all year.”

Collins said he has had Georgia customers request Georgia-grown peaches in March, long before late spring harvesting begins.

Brian Young, general manager of Coosemans Atlanta Inc., said the push for locally grown and regionally grown produce could conflict with the industry’s interest in grower-shippers adopting food safety traceability systems.

“What I find interesting is the USDA and the FDA policing of produce with traceability,” Young said.

“While it’s great that we promote and support local farmers no matter where they are, it seems a little contradictory when government agencies are trying to police this protocol on traceability.

“The big farms have all their fields certified and when dealing with the local growers, you lose some of the ability to be on top of where you’re getting the product. It’s a little bit of a Catch-22.”

Andrew Scott, sales and procurement manager for General Produce Inc., Atlanta, said the wholesaler has long supported Georgia-grown produce such as blueberries, peaches and Vidalia onions.

Scott said he sees interest in regional grown produce continuing to increase. He said General Produce is buying Florida-grown cauliflower and Georgia-grown broccoli.