(May 4) As produce wholesalers and retailers scramble for answers to higher fuel costs, locally grown products may take on a more important role this year than in seasons past.

“We were just talking about that this morning, about what the homegrown factor is going to be this year,” Greg Lehr, a buyer for St. Louis-based retailer William A. Straub Inc., said April 28. “It’s a good promising thing for them. It’s just the fact that they’ll be able to capitalize, definitely in the fruit market.”

David Watson, president and chief operating officer of Chicago-based wholesaler Strube Celery & Vegetable Co., agreed that local product likely will play a more important role this season.

“I recognized that last summer, that the Midwest local crops are going to enjoy more business for many reasons, but certainly one of them is the freight off the West Coast or East Coast coming into the Midwest,” Watson said. “If the freight rates get too high, it’s much more attractive for the local crops.”