Middlemen are often derided as making a buck off the back of the little guy. What this simplistic picture misses is the vital role wholesalers play in creating markets for smaller, and yes, local, farmers who can't sell direct or who want to diversify their income stream.
This isn't a sexy business. You won't see stunning pictures of farmers in lush fields. More likely, just a steel warehouse with forklifts and trucks at the concrete loading dock. Some of these businesses, like Organically Grown Co., in Oregon, are working hard at reducing their carbon footprint by running trucks on biodiesel, retrofitting their warehouses, replacing lights, and migrating to reusable plastic produce bins instead of waxed cardboard boxes. Others I've come across include Co-Op Partners Warehouse in the Twin Cities, Veritable Vegetable in northern California, and Tuscarora Organic in the mid-Atlantic. There are many more, but not nearly enough.
Amid the din of the Iowa Caucus, NPR this morning profiled one start up in northern Michigan making a go at creating a local wholesale produce business. It's worth a listen. Expect more entrants into this niche as local food grows.
- Samuel Fromartz