United Day 1: Location, location, location

May 15, 2013

Of the famous five W’s of journalism, the one that relates the most to the first day of the United Fresh 2013 show in San Diego is “where.”

The word was spoken in a variety of different contexts both by presenters and in conversations on the trade show floor.

Where are you from? That’s the most common question asked at occasions such as this. To someone like me who is interested in dialects and languages, conversation here is a feast for the ears. Yesterday in one group conversation, we had represented the vocal melodies of Louisiana, Canada, Minnesota and New Jersey (and my own nasal Midwestern drawl).

Where are your crops grown? This is an increasingly-important question as it relates to geographical regions, but also — in this age of increasing traceability and transparency — regarding specific lots and batches of fresh-cut produce and the raw material from which it springs.

Where will the agricultural labor work force come from? That question was the subject of a telephone campaign set up by United where those at the show could call and directly lobby congressional representatives in a concerted effort to make immigration reform a reality. The calls may be needed to stem the tide of public opinion. Outgoing United board chairman David Knause noted that calls to Congress have been running 10:1 against the reform measures now under consideration.

Where are bacterial pathogens coming from that have the potential to get on produce? That’s the subject of a clutch of research projects discussed by Robert Buchanan, director of the Center for Food Safety and Security Systems at the University of Maryland. Researchers are looking for the best ways to measure for bacterial levels in the ground, water and air.

Whole Foods co-chair Walter Robb presented his own intriguing set of wheres. The most heartening was the location of a new Whole Foods store: right in the middle of what he called a “food desert,” which is the name for a location where the residents aren’t able to get healthy foods because no markets are in the neighborhood. That problem will be solved in inner-city Detroit when Whole Foods opens its new store at the corner of John R Street and Mack Avenue.

When Robb talks about where the produce industry is headed in the next few years, he’s nothing but positive. After describing the woeful state of the American diet, and the incredible health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables, he said, “The produce industry has the right product for the right time.”

That’s an enviable position to be in. The challenge, as will no doubt be discussed all over the trade show on Day 2, will be how to stay there.

Lee Dean, editorial director