By Ashley M. Casey
More than 5,000 people and 400 companies in the produce industry recently converged on the Jacob Javits Center in New York City for the annual New York Produce Show. The event, which ran from Dec. 4 to 8, showcased New York state’s agricultural products and connected growers, wholesalers and other food service executives from the Northeast and beyond.
“Because it is the cutting edge of the industry, the farms that participate bring back new ideas to their own operation, new perspectives,” said Brian Reeves, president of the New York State Vegetable Growers Association and owner of Reeves Farms in Baldwinsville.
Reeves’ reason for attending the conference was twofold: in addition to attending educational breakout sessions, he said he met with customers in New York and New Jersey before and after the produce show.
“I went down mostly to try to benefit directly our farm and our marketing,” he said. “There’s many times I’ll go to something like this and I can’t name a specific customer I’ve gained, but I’ll gain a lot of knowledge. In any industry, you can’t just replicate what you’ve done for 20 or 30 years — you’ve got to be innovative.”
Reeves said the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets sponsored six booths to highlight some of the products New York farms have to offer: fruit and vegetables, honey, Christmas trees and more.
“We are very excited about the connections our producers have been able to make at the New York Produce Show and the opportunity to promote New York agriculture and help our farmers reach new customers and new markets,” State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said in a release about the show. “This year’s display provides a great snapshot of New York’s thriving produce and specialty crops industry, while spotlighting the New York State Grown and Certified program to promote our growers and producers.”
Reeves said the Ag and Markets booths provided an opportunity for growers to show off their products and make connections that they otherwise might not have the chance to make.
“If I wanted to go down there alone and rent a booth and decorate it … I’m not sure exactly of the price tag, but it’d be several thousand dollars,” Reeves said. “[With Ag and Markets’ help] all of that I would not have to do alone.”
In addition to the networking and showcasing opportunities, the New York Produce Show hosts educational breakout sessions on all aspects of the produce and food service industries, including marketing, packaging and improving the flavor of varieties of produce.
“It’s a venue that is full of really all sectors of the produce trade: supermarkets, food service, wholesalers, distributors,” Reeves said. “If you’re a vegetable or fruit grower you can under one roof have meetings and networking with potential buyers for your product. You can see what your competition is doing.”
As for what’s trending in the produce world, Reeves said subscription services like Blue Apron, prepared or ready-to-eat meal services and mail-order groceries such as Amazon and Fresh Direct are on the rise.
“The last 25 years, we’ve been heavily marketing toward chain stores and we still will. That’s probably the way most suburban people get their food,” Reeves said.
With busier schedules, the traditional family dinner is less common.
“My parents, they cooked a lot for us kids. We all ate together at home. Now, people are buying takeout, they’re eating on the run, they’re not eating at home as much,” Reeves said.
Despite this trend, Reeves said the explosion of cooking shows in the last decade has inspired some “foodies” to return to the kitchen, so the demand for fresh, locally grown produce is high.
Reeves Farms partners with New York City-area food subscription services such as Blue Apron, produce outlets such as Greenmarkets and eateries such as Dig Inn. He said the New York Produce Show focuses mainly on the New York metropolitan area, New Jersey and Connecticut.
“That may not fit for all farmers,” Reeves said.
While not all farmers are interested in marketing their produce to New York City, Reeves said doing so could boost the Central New York economy
“If there’s a surplus, it’s an advantage to Central New York to send some of that out of the area, relieve some of the downward pressure on prices,” Reeves said. “[It] helps the rest of the product in Central New York get the price they deserve.”
Reeves said distribution of local produce to more markets reduces the stress of competition among local growers.
“A rising tide floats all boats,” he said.
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.