[Market-farming] NYTimes.com: Food That Travels Well

Bill Shoemaker wshoemak at inil.com
Thu Aug 9 08:16:04 EDT 2007


I'm sure you've watched produce decline during your long career as a grower. 
Most of these long-distance shippers are masters at post-harvest handling 
practices that preserve their product. They cool their product immediately, 
clean it up, sort it, package it, ship it in reefers. It's ready for a 
beauty contest, and I think the shippers are more seduced than anyone. They 
think it's perfect. But it was picked before peak ripeness to survive the 
trip. It's culinary and nutritional quality were compromised for the sake of 
shipping it. Then it has to survive thousands of miles of travel, several 
handlers, and presentation in the market. You and I both know that the 
big-box stores don't train and retain their produce personnel like they used 
too. The product really has no one taking care of it in the market. Though 
the grower does their job very well, the market doesn't know how to preserve 
the product. Because it's picked early, it does hold up better,...at first. 
But once it starts to go down, and no one in the system understands it, it 
just deteriorates.

You may have a somewhat biased perspective in New Jersey because you have so 
many good growers out there who ship into big markets nearby. The product 
can be picked more mature, the grower still does a great job, the shipping 
is minimal, and I think many of the markets are better at handling the 
product there. I'm near Chicago and I'm disgusted at produce quality in most 
stores, even ones with a reputation for high quality. Even if it looks good 
(the primary criteria, by the way), it lacks real culinary quality.

Bottom line, I think the shipping industry is so enamored of it's 
post-harvest handling practices it loses sight of the end game. They push it 
too far and the product implodes in the market. I wonder how many consumers 
would be buying more than 5-servings-a-day if they could get farm-fresh 
quality routinely and conveniently?

Bill Shoemaker, Sr Research Specialist, Food Crops
University of Illinois - St Charles Horticulture Research Center

> Supermarkets are a perfect example of do as we say not as we do. Anyone 
> who has ever shipped produce to a supermarket chain will tell you they 
> have the highest quality standards in the world. Most all the produce you 
> buy at your local farmers market would not be good enough for the 
> supermarket buyers. So what happens when quality produce gets into the 
> supermarket warehouse??? I haven't a clue. It comes out into the display 
> floor totally trashed.
> Sunny Meadow Farm
> Bridgeton, NJ.
>>"What happened to the good produce? Why is it that >our stores have only 
>>second- or third-rate stuff any >more, even at the height of the season?"
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