Community-Suffolk’s Piazza finds maintaining “control over your waste disposal is huge. It’s just the right thing to do; it’s about being aware of what can be done other than filling up the dumpsters.” Another part of the reduce-reuse-recycle mantra includes a giant pile of woodchips, from a pallet grinder. “Whenever someone has a need for it, they come and take it. We also use it around here to help beautify and keep down weeds,” Condakes says.
The merchants also drastically reduce waste by setting aside any food that can’t be sent to foodbanks for a local pig farmer and embrace the ‘ugly produce’ initiative. “We’re really trying to stay on top of food waste, whether it’s bad product or scraps or fresh product that’s not beautiful—that’s been a company-wide initiative,” points out Baldor’s Messinger.
“We’re trying to work with farmers to get stuff they would just leave in the ground because it’s not perfect, and repurpose it,” Messinger explains. “It helps the local farmer because instead of leaving stuff in the ground, he’s getting money for it. And of course, it helps with the environment.”
For Cavallaro, cleaning and maintenance are important too. “We try to do a spring cleaning every year and clean all the equipment, the refrigeration units, steam everything down and make sure the trucks are working efficiently,” Callavaro says. “There are always little things that have to be fixed, new tires on trucks, and units to be worked on. You’ve got to keep everything running as efficiently as you possibly can.”
Although the economy has shown significant improvement over the past year, vendors at the NEPC and BMT are still contending with plenty of obstacles. “Maintaining and trying to expand your customer base—that’s a big challenge,” asserts Condakes.
Richard Travers, a co-owner of Travers Fruit Company, Inc. at the NEPC, puts it this way: “The biggest challenge we have is just balancing supply and demand,” he says, “a challenge everyone in the produce industry faces. Getting the right quality and quantity of product to match demand—that’s always a challenge.”
But most merchants say transportation is their biggest roadblock. “Transportation is always a challenge, whether it’s rail or trucks,” Piazza remarks. “Rail is often unpredictable, and that can make things difficult.” Thanks to lower fuel prices, trucking costs have been more reasonable this year, but it doesn’t always translate to lower freight expenses. “We handle a lot of the bulk heavy products like carrots, onions, potatoes, celery, and broccoli, so to keep freight costs down is a challenge.”
So, Piazza says they get ‘creative’ by trying to mix lighter product, like salads, in with heavy loads to bring down the weight and cost. “We have to be smarter and more aware of cubic feet and weight and all the things that come into play.”
Cavallaro agrees trucking is always a trial. “Getting good trucks and communicating with them is difficult,” he says. “The federal government is putting a lot of heat on them as far as regulations. I know it’s hurting many of these guys, and it’s already very difficult to recruit drivers because it’s a tough, lonely job.”