Maryland Wholesale Produce Market looking to the future
The Maryland Food Center Authority provides economical, sanitary and modern facilities for food-distribution companies operating in the state. That includes those working in the produce industry, through the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market in Jessup, MD.
“With more than 2 million acres of farmland, Maryland contributes $8.25 billion annually to the economy,” said Donald J. Darnall, executive director of the MFCA. “Local farmers depend on the vendors on the market to distribute their product. The market has always been a backbone to the fresh food industry.”
The produce market opened in the late ’70s, when many of Baltimore’s produce wholesalers were based in various locations in the city’s downtown area.
That setup required buyers to navigate congested roads and different transportation modes to get from one wholesaler to another.
“It became a very inefficient way for the grocery chains and mom-and-pop stores to be able to buy produce from wholesalers because they were scattered throughout the city,” said Darnall, explaining that a more efficient model was created so suppliers of fresh produce could sell their products to their customer.
The market is located in the I-95 corridor in close proximity to the interstate for receiving product by using the highway system. Jessup was chosen because of its convenient location, halfway between Baltimore and Washington DC.
“Back in the day, those were two real separate economic hubs,” Darnall said. “But over time, they kind of morphed into one super hub, which is the Baltimore-Washington corridor, and the market is right in the middle of the corridor.”
Over the last 50 years, the market has continued to evolve. For instance, with the declining use of rail service, the market has become more dependent on truck transportation, while chain store business has seen a decline due to the larger stores utilizing their own warehouses.
“With the decline of chain store sales, there has been an increase in sales to the smaller grocery stores, purveyors and to the major pre-cut processors who depend on the market,” Darnall said. “Most of the farmers in the state prefer to sell retail, but those who are trying to get into the wholesale business, going into the market is a good outlet for them.”
Also, when the market opened, approximately 85 percent of the area’s fruits and vegetables went through it. Technology, specifically the evolution of the trucking industry, has led to larger retailers buying their produce directly, which moved business away from the market.
“Last year, I worked with two Maryland senators to promote the importance of the local farmer,” Darnall said, noting efforts were increasing on helping them work with wholesalers on the market.
Today, there are 29 vendors that call the market home.
The biggest buzz around the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market today concerns future improvement, with a multi-million-dollar investment into modernization of the market underway.
“The market is in the planning stages to expand the rear dock with the option of adding refrigeration space,” Darnall said. “With the improvements like the expansion of the rear dock we can expect to see continued growth to help provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the East Coast.”
The market is also looking into increasing the power supply to the individual units and other factors that would help support the market’s role in the fresh food industry.
“We’re going to go ahead and try to retrofit and reconfigure the market as it sits, to breathe some long-term future life into the market by making upgrades now,” Darnall said. “We’re hopeful that approach will ensure the market is sustainable and a key facilitator of fresh food getting to the people of Maryland.”
Photo: Maryland Wholesale Produce Market.