Too Many Bad Apples: A Sad Day at the Tampa Wholesale Produce Market

Come with me on my recent trip to the Farmer's Market! Sadly, the quality and prices of veggies & fruit are horrible right now. This will get better and I will continue to support local business.

One of my favorite things to do is going to the original Tampa Wholesale Produce Market on Hillsborough Avenue. There are Farmer’s Markets popping up all over Tampa these days Ybor City, Downtown, Seminole Heights — all which have a vast offering of fruits, vegetables, live music, and fun. And while I frequent many of these markets on a weekly basis, I am loyal to the original Tampa Wholesale Produce Market. I love this place!

A quick ten minute drive from my house — it always brings a smile to my face. With $20 in hand you will fill up your fridge with a cornucopia of colorful fruits and vegetables. Cucumbers 3/$1, tomatoes 1basket/$1, peaches 3/$1 … everything’s a dollar! And there’s the atmosphere and the people. The stand owners speak some English but Spanish is their first language, so it’s a chance to speak their language, not mine. And the mix of people warms my heart.  It is a melting pot of young and old, people of all different races and ethnic backgrounds.

I have my favorite stands, but I usually purchase something from each of them.  But sadly, this past Tuesday strolling through the market wasn't as fun as usual. It was depressing. As I visited each of the booths I struggled to find vegetables worth buying. The tomatoes were red but wilting, the peaches were super soft and beginning to rot, the squash was too sad to even purchase. I made a few small buys before I gave up. As I left the market I had to wonder, “why is this?"  I thought we had made it through the harsh winter freeze and shortages I heard of from earlier in the spring.  

I always go to the market first then head to the grocery to pick up my other staples and do a little price comparison on veggies and fruit. So on this trip to Publix it hurt my feelings even more when I entered their newly redesigned produce and veggie section. I thought I’d get some fresh Brussels Sprouts (which are delicious when grilled), but when I looked at the price I screamed in shock! Brussels Sprouts are at $3.50/pound making a pack of them around $6.I can honestly say I’ve never seen them this high. No Brussels for me! I thought then I’ll pick up some zucchini and squash.  Unfortunately, it was the same thing — prices that I simply can’t afford to pay. How depressing!

In February, I wrote about the foul weather and shortages that were to come and I can honestly say we didn’t feel it that bad in Tampa. Prices were a little high, quality of produce and veggies remained strong.  My trips to the market were fruitful. I thought we had made it through. Tomatoes were being supplemented from the local market — a good thing.

In March, I read that vegetable prices had increased nearly 50 percent, one of the biggest one-month increases in overall food prices we have experienced since 1974 and the steepest rise in U.S. inflation in nearly two years.  As we moved into April, costs were supposed to ease up as farmers rebounded from the cold weather in the southern U.S. and Mexico which destroyed a bulk of the winter vegetable supply.  Well, it’s simply not true!

So what’s causing the continuing high prices and sad state of produce at the local market? A visit to Fresh Plaza.com, an independent news source covering the global fruit and vegetable industry, and I understand a little better what I saw at the market and in the grocery. I read headlines such as this:

  • US (CA): Climate change altering global fruit and nut industry
  • Cold snap delays June New Mexico onion harvest
  • US (CA): Local watermelon season worst in 20years
  • US(OR): Cool, wet weather challenges farmers
  • US: Poor weather still hampering crop plantings in Northeast Ohio US (PA): Rainy spring rough on strawberries
  • US: Farmers fight frost to save cherries

Needles to say, in spite of the warm weather our nation is still struggling. Our farmers are struggling, our food is struggling, and ultimately we are suffering because of damage we’ve done to our environment.  Shame on us!

I’ll be back at the market this weekend and hopefully things will be a little better. I will still spend money and buy from the locals. I will still enjoy this tradition. And I’ll continue to keep my eye on the bigger picture — because it is all related.

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Chuck Stephens August 19, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Hey Sharmi! Most of the produce at our local 'farmer's' markets comes from the same distributors that supply the local grocers. The only difference is the big guys get first pick. While it is cheaper to buy produce at the markets and If you have to buy from a middle man it's better to use a local one, it's not a real solution to our food problem. Just like Cold Storage brewery is a viable local alternative to bad corporate beer, our only solution to the food problem is more local farmers.


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