The New York metropolitan area remains ideally situated as an important receiving point of local and regional produce.

The Tri-State region is host to production regions in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and other areas.

“(Locally grown produce) is continuing to see increased demand,” said Joel Panagakos, a salesman for J. Kings Foodservice Professionals Inc., Holtsville, N.Y.

“What’s happening is the baton is being passed from the 60-year-old farmers to their 30-year-old sons and daughters. The younger group’s more attuned to the clerical part that has to be done today, with all the recordkeeping and computers. They want to keep it growing and see the family business thrive.”

Weather difficulties

A big challenge limiting the supply of local produce is the availability of labor and land lease costs, he said.

Panagakos said the short growing season makes it difficult to attract migrant workers, and that helps keeps supplies tight.

Because of weather difficulties, the local deal last season experienced many challenges and many items ran short, said Matthew D’Arrigo, vice president of D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York Inc.

“Local has its place and its niche,” he said. “It will grow to whatever size it possibly can, but it has a very severe constraint on it based on the climate.
Depending on commodity, we will have the local deals affecting everything from May through October. If we get a good growing year, it will affect more.”

Local produce is drawing more interest, said Jeff Young, a fruit buyer for A&J Produce Corp., New York.

“I see restaurant menus, and I see more food chains interested in local products,” he said. “They’re more interested in local produce. Their customers are asking for more local. Everyone wants to support their local farmers.”

A U.S. Department of Agriculture definition Young said he heard about local includes anything grown within a 12-hour driving distance from where it is picked, packed and shipped.

That broad definition helps New York distributors as such a definition can cover anything from Maine to South Carolina, he said.

Growth leveling off

Though distributors sell much local produce, demand isn’t increasing so much, said Mike Cochran, sales manager and vice president of New York-based Robert T. Cochran & Co. Inc.

“Demand isn’t increasing as much,” he said. “Many of those people who buy local produce go to the farmers markets or are involved in community supported agriculture.”

Cochran supports many local growers and sells a lot of local produce, particularly during the summer, Cochran said.  

The local movement is helping produce consumption, said Joe Granata, director of produce for RLB Food Distributors LP, West Caldwell, N.J.

It’s also spurring the construction of rooftop greenhouses in urban areas.

“It has really kept produce up at a high level,” he said. “We are seeing more of these greenhouses. Everyone’s growing things in hothouses on top of rooftops in the city. They’re growing lettuces and herbs. Local has been a big focus, and it’s really taken off here.”

Local of course only works well with items that are grown domestically.

“We try to procure local produce whenever possible but many of the items we have don’t fit with local programs,” said Bruce Klein, director of marketing for Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., Secaucus N.J. “We are receiving more significant demand for local. I see the demand staying high.”
Auerbach distributes garlic, asparagus, ginger, shallots, baby potatoes and onions.