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Vick Family Farms expands storage, adds bagging

WILSON, NC — Lyndon B. Johnson, the legendary master of the U.S. Senate, used to say that the time to make friends is before you need them. And the time to expand farming operations is before you need more space. That’s the approach Vick Family Farms here took last year, when spring rains foreshortened the 2013 sweet potato harvest. The family corporation invested in a new storage facility for year-round sweet potatoes and a bagging machine to spur consumer demand.

The move paid off.VICK11214-EXPORTIn the packinghouse at Vick Family Farms, a growing share of the 2014 sweet potato harvest is being exported overseas. These cartons, with Süßkartoffeln printed on them — German for ‘sweet potatoes’ — are being shipped to Amsterdam for German markets. Vick added 22,000 square feet of refrigerated storage space and was able to accommodate the back-to-normal abundance of the 2014 sweet potato harvest. The new storage facility gives Vick the ability to store 600,000 bushels on site, according to Hunter A. S. Rascoe, packinghouse and food-safety manager. Rascoe said the added capacity enables Vick to offer cured sweet potatoes year-round.

“Vick Family Farms cures its sweet potatoes for seven to 10 days at temperatures of 80 to 85 degrees with 80-90 percent humidity,” he said. “Curing causes sugar-creating enzymes to develop that make sweet potatoes taste sweet. After curing, we store the potatoes at 55-60 degrees for the rest of the year until the new crop is harvested.”

The bagging machine, added in the last year, puts sweet potatoes into three-pound bags. Experience shows, Rascoe said, some supermarket consumers prefer to buy their sweet potatoes in bags rather than pick them from a bin, especially for the Thanksgiving holidays. “Right now our bagging machine runs at capacity for the holidays,” he observed, “but we hope it will steadily build into more consistent business throughout the year.”  

Food safety is a key concern, and Rascoe said each sweet potato bin is labeled so that its contents can be traced back to the field where they grew and the workers who were involved. The cartons contain labels that show when they were processed and by which workers, along with the bin number. “We track crop rotation, pesticide and fertilizer applications and harvesting crews,” Rascoe said. “Once a year we have a mock recall, where we check on traceability from the retailer back to the field.”

In the packinghouse, where skilled fork-lift drivers expertly jockey their loads from one point to another, some experienced workers have nine years’ tenure on the job. In addition to the bagging machine, other evidence of consumer preference can be found. For example, sweet potatoes are sized, and those too big or too small — or which have too weird a shape to appeal to retail consumers — are relegated to canneries, french fry factories, puree manufacturers or pet food pellets.

Rascoe noted that a sizable percentage of the cartons shipped have Süßkartoffeln printed on them — German for “sweet potatoes” — because they are destined for the growing export market. In any language, Vick Family Farms anticipates consumer demand, making friends before they are needed.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Vick Family Farms expands storage, adds bagging

WILSON, NC — Lyndon B. Johnson, the legendary master of the U.S. Senate, used to say that the time to make friends is before you need them. And the time to expand farming operations is before you need more space. That’s the approach Vick Family Farms here took last year, when spring rains foreshortened the 2013 sweet potato harvest. The family corporation invested in a new storage facility for year-round sweet potatoes and a bagging machine to spur consumer demand.

The move paid off.VICK11214-EXPORTIn the packinghouse at Vick Family Farms, a growing share of the 2014 sweet potato harvest is being exported overseas. These cartons, with Süßkartoffeln printed on them — German for ‘sweet potatoes’ — are being shipped to Amsterdam for German markets. Vick added 22,000 square feet of refrigerated storage space and was able to accommodate the back-to-normal abundance of the 2014 sweet potato harvest. The new storage facility gives Vick the ability to store 600,000 bushels on site, according to Hunter A. S. Rascoe, packinghouse and food-safety manager. Rascoe said the added capacity enables Vick to offer cured sweet potatoes year-round.

“Vick Family Farms cures its sweet potatoes for seven to 10 days at temperatures of 80 to 85 degrees with 80-90 percent humidity,” he said. “Curing causes sugar-creating enzymes to develop that make sweet potatoes taste sweet. After curing, we store the potatoes at 55-60 degrees for the rest of the year until the new crop is harvested.”

The bagging machine, added in the last year, puts sweet potatoes into three-pound bags. Experience shows, Rascoe said, some supermarket consumers prefer to buy their sweet potatoes in bags rather than pick them from a bin, especially for the Thanksgiving holidays. “Right now our bagging machine runs at capacity for the holidays,” he observed, “but we hope it will steadily build into more consistent business throughout the year.”  

Food safety is a key concern, and Rascoe said each sweet potato bin is labeled so that its contents can be traced back to the field where they grew and the workers who were involved. The cartons contain labels that show when they were processed and by which workers, along with the bin number. “We track crop rotation, pesticide and fertilizer applications and harvesting crews,” Rascoe said. “Once a year we have a mock recall, where we check on traceability from the retailer back to the field.”

In the packinghouse, where skilled fork-lift drivers expertly jockey their loads from one point to another, some experienced workers have nine years’ tenure on the job. In addition to the bagging machine, other evidence of consumer preference can be found. For example, sweet potatoes are sized, and those too big or too small — or which have too weird a shape to appeal to retail consumers — are relegated to canneries, french fry factories, puree manufacturers or pet food pellets.

Rascoe noted that a sizable percentage of the cartons shipped have Süßkartoffeln printed on them — German for “sweet potatoes” — because they are destined for the growing export market. In any language, Vick Family Farms anticipates consumer demand, making friends before they are needed.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Pomegranate Kernels Recalled in Connection with Townsend Farms Hep A Outbreak

Scenic Fruit Company, based in Oregon, has voluntarily recalled 5,091 cases (61,092 8-oz. bags) of Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels due to potential contamination of hepatitis A.

No illnesses have been connected to the Woodstock brand pomegranate kernels, but they were imported from Turkey and may be associated with the imported pomegranate kernels implicated in the ongoing Townsend Farms frozen berry hepatitis A outbreak that has sickened at least 122 people in eight states.

The products are sold in 8-oz. resealable plastic pouches with UPC Cod 0 42563 01628 9. Further coding information is on the back portion of the pouches below the zip-lock seal. The following lots are subject to recall:

  • C 0129 (A,B, or C) 035 with a best by date of 02/04/2015
  • C 0388 (A,B, or C) 087 with a best by date of 03/28/2015
  • C 0490 (A,B, or C) 109 with a best by date of 04/19/2015

The products were shipped between February 2013 through May 2013 to UNFI distribution centers in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington State. UNFI distribution centers may have further distributed products to retail stores in other states.

Symptoms of hepatitis A infection generally appear within 14 to 50 days of exposure and include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice and dark urine.

Those who receive a vaccination within two weeks of exposure may prevent illness, and anyone who has already received a hepatitis A vaccination in the past is not at risk of infection.

Food Safety News

J&J Family of Farms hires new president

J&J Family of Farms has hired industry veteran Chris Coffman to serve as its president and chief operating officer. In this new position Coffman will be leading the day-to-day operations for the company.

Coffman, who has 24 years of experience in the produce industry, will be responsible for overseeing all J&J operation locations in Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Tennessee, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.Chris-CoffmanChris Coffman Additionally, he will be responsible for executing the organizational vision to continue to grow and expand J&J Family of Farms as a premier grower-shipper of peppers, cucumbers, squash and a variety of mixed vegetables for foodservice and retail operators nationwide.

“We have reached a critical time in the growth of organization that required regular operational oversight and we are excited to have Chris on board,” Chris Erneston, chief executive officer of J&J Family of Farms, said in a press release. “Chris’ previous experience helps him understand the challenges and opportunities of our business model and with him at the helm, I can focus my energies on business development and the continued strategic relationship building that will propel our farming operations.”

Coffman previously served as the president of Los Angeles-based Harvest Sensations. Earlier in his career he held positions at Del Monte and Apio Inc.

“I am humbled by the opportunity to lead the team at J&J Family of Farms,” Coffman said in the release. “The Erneston family has assembled some of the best professionals in the industry and they are committed to growing a business rooted in their values of integrity, quality and service. It is those values that drew me to this company and will set the pace for our future success that will be a measure of greatness beyond that of the industry standard.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Wisconsin Names Two Farms That Sourced Raw Milk Linked to Outbreaks

Wisconsin state officials have released the names of two farms that supplied raw milk linked to Campylobacter outbreaks of the past few years.

In September 2014, 38 people were sickened after attending a potluck meal for the Durand High School football team. According to the state Department of Health Services memo released Friday, a farm operated by Roland and Diana Reed of Arkansaw, WI, was the source of the unpasteurized milk served at the meal.

Officials also stated that milk from Schaal Dairy Farm was linked to 16 illnesses that occurred at North Cape Elementary School in Franksville, WI, in 2011.

The information was released following a public record request from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The newspaper reports that the health department plans to release their report on the Durand outbreak on Monday, following which the state’s Agriculture Department will decide whether to take enforcement action.

Food Safety News

J&J Family of Farms hires new western sales manager

Because J&J Family of Farms continues to expand into the western region of the United States, the company recently hired Mari Danielson, who will serve as its western sales manager.

Danielson, who was previously the senior sales executive for Sunfed, brings a wide range of produce experience to this new position.

“This is a great opportunity to be able to sell and market all varieties of high-quality produce from a well-established company with a diversified customer base,” she said in a press release.Mari ColorMari Danielson “I am very excited to grow my career with the ‘Family of Farms’ that J&J represents.”

Starting her career in the Phoenix wholesale market, Danielson developed hands-on product knowledge of all aspects of the wholesale segment. After moving to Colorado, she was hired as a retail specialist for CH Robinson, working in procurement, sales, merchandising, representation and transportation.

Building on her produce expertise, Danielson opened a logistics and produce company based in Colorado, which provided her with the additional skills and experience in management and administration. In 2006 she re-located to the Nogales area where she was offered the opportunity to expand sales for SunFed.

“With our continued growth in the western region, J&J has now become a national supplier and this has created new opportunities for us to enlarge our sales force and operations,” Brian Rayfield, vice president of business development for J&J, said in the release.  “Mari’s produce knowledge combined with her retail and foodservice experience will be an asset to our team.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

J&J Family of Farms hires new western sales manager

Because J&J Family of Farms continues to expand into the western region of the United States, the company recently hired Mari Danielson, who will serve as its western sales manager.

Danielson, who was previously the senior sales executive for Sunfed, brings a wide range of produce experience to this new position.

“This is a great opportunity to be able to sell and market all varieties of high-quality produce from a well-established company with a diversified customer base,” she said in a press release.Mari ColorMari Danielson “I am very excited to grow my career with the ‘Family of Farms’ that J&J represents.”

Starting her career in the Phoenix wholesale market, Danielson developed hands-on product knowledge of all aspects of the wholesale segment. After moving to Colorado, she was hired as a retail specialist for CH Robinson, working in procurement, sales, merchandising, representation and transportation.

Building on her produce expertise, Danielson opened a logistics and produce company based in Colorado, which provided her with the additional skills and experience in management and administration. In 2006 she re-located to the Nogales area where she was offered the opportunity to expand sales for SunFed.

“With our continued growth in the western region, J&J has now become a national supplier and this has created new opportunities for us to enlarge our sales force and operations,” Brian Rayfield, vice president of business development for J&J, said in the release.  “Mari’s produce knowledge combined with her retail and foodservice experience will be an asset to our team.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Red Sun Farms cuts ribbon at new Virginia facility

redsun1

Red Sun Farms welcomed over 225 guests to the first phase of its newest state-of-the-art greenhouse in Dublin, VA, to officially cut the ribbon and celebrate the grand opening of the facility.

Amongst community leaders, retail partners and local business owners was Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who participated in the ribbon cutting and celebrated alongside Red Sun Farms’ ownership and team members.

The event that celebrated the beauty of the greenhouse and featured a gastronomic adventure made from Red Sun Farms’ greenhouse-grown vegetables. Attendees feasted on shallot red pepper tarte tatins, BLT scallops, grilled shrimp with tomato Brava sauce, fried green tomato BLT’s and an heirloom tomato carving station complete with a variety of cheeses and finishing salts from around the globe.

“I was so pleased with the event, it was wonderful to share this proud moment with the community of Dublin and the New River Valley, our retail partners and state officials,” Carlos Visconti, chief operating officer of Red Sun Farms, said in a press release. “Not only were we able to celebrate with our friends and partners, it was the perfect opportunity for guests to taste our produce grown in Virginia and grown in our greenhouse facilities in Canada and Mexico.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Red Sun Farms cuts ribbon at new Virginia facility

redsun1

Red Sun Farms welcomed over 225 guests to the first phase of its newest state-of-the-art greenhouse in Dublin, VA, to officially cut the ribbon and celebrate the grand opening of the facility.

Amongst community leaders, retail partners and local business owners was Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who participated in the ribbon cutting and celebrated alongside Red Sun Farms’ ownership and team members.

The event that celebrated the beauty of the greenhouse and featured a gastronomic adventure made from Red Sun Farms’ greenhouse-grown vegetables. Attendees feasted on shallot red pepper tarte tatins, BLT scallops, grilled shrimp with tomato Brava sauce, fried green tomato BLT’s and an heirloom tomato carving station complete with a variety of cheeses and finishing salts from around the globe.

“I was so pleased with the event, it was wonderful to share this proud moment with the community of Dublin and the New River Valley, our retail partners and state officials,” Carlos Visconti, chief operating officer of Red Sun Farms, said in a press release. “Not only were we able to celebrate with our friends and partners, it was the perfect opportunity for guests to taste our produce grown in Virginia and grown in our greenhouse facilities in Canada and Mexico.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Red Sun Farms cuts ribbon at new Virginia facility

redsun1

Red Sun Farms welcomed over 225 guests to the first phase of its newest state-of-the-art greenhouse in Dublin, VA, to officially cut the ribbon and celebrate the grand opening of the facility.

Amongst community leaders, retail partners and local business owners was Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who participated in the ribbon cutting and celebrated alongside Red Sun Farms’ ownership and team members.

The event that celebrated the beauty of the greenhouse and featured a gastronomic adventure made from Red Sun Farms’ greenhouse-grown vegetables. Attendees feasted on shallot red pepper tarte tatins, BLT scallops, grilled shrimp with tomato Brava sauce, fried green tomato BLT’s and an heirloom tomato carving station complete with a variety of cheeses and finishing salts from around the globe.

“I was so pleased with the event, it was wonderful to share this proud moment with the community of Dublin and the New River Valley, our retail partners and state officials,” Carlos Visconti, chief operating officer of Red Sun Farms, said in a press release. “Not only were we able to celebrate with our friends and partners, it was the perfect opportunity for guests to taste our produce grown in Virginia and grown in our greenhouse facilities in Canada and Mexico.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Red Sun Farms cuts ribbon at new Virginia facility

redsun1

Red Sun Farms welcomed over 225 guests to the first phase of its newest state-of-the-art greenhouse in Dublin, VA, to officially cut the ribbon and celebrate the grand opening of the facility.

Amongst community leaders, retail partners and local business owners was Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who participated in the ribbon cutting and celebrated alongside Red Sun Farms’ ownership and team members.

The event that celebrated the beauty of the greenhouse and featured a gastronomic adventure made from Red Sun Farms’ greenhouse-grown vegetables. Attendees feasted on shallot red pepper tarte tatins, BLT scallops, grilled shrimp with tomato Brava sauce, fried green tomato BLT’s and an heirloom tomato carving station complete with a variety of cheeses and finishing salts from around the globe.

“I was so pleased with the event, it was wonderful to share this proud moment with the community of Dublin and the New River Valley, our retail partners and state officials,” Carlos Visconti, chief operating officer of Red Sun Farms, said in a press release. “Not only were we able to celebrate with our friends and partners, it was the perfect opportunity for guests to taste our produce grown in Virginia and grown in our greenhouse facilities in Canada and Mexico.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Red Sun Farms cuts ribbon at new Virginia facility

redsun1

Red Sun Farms welcomed over 225 guests to the first phase of its newest state-of-the-art greenhouse in Dublin, VA, to officially cut the ribbon and celebrate the grand opening of the facility.

Amongst community leaders, retail partners and local business owners was Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who participated in the ribbon cutting and celebrated alongside Red Sun Farms’ ownership and team members.

The event that celebrated the beauty of the greenhouse and featured a gastronomic adventure made from Red Sun Farms’ greenhouse-grown vegetables. Attendees feasted on shallot red pepper tarte tatins, BLT scallops, grilled shrimp with tomato Brava sauce, fried green tomato BLT’s and an heirloom tomato carving station complete with a variety of cheeses and finishing salts from around the globe.

“I was so pleased with the event, it was wonderful to share this proud moment with the community of Dublin and the New River Valley, our retail partners and state officials,” Carlos Visconti, chief operating officer of Red Sun Farms, said in a press release. “Not only were we able to celebrate with our friends and partners, it was the perfect opportunity for guests to taste our produce grown in Virginia and grown in our greenhouse facilities in Canada and Mexico.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

In Wake of Outbreak, Foster Farms Outlines New Salmonella Plan

Foster Farms, the California-based poultry company whose chicken was the source of a recent 17-month Salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 600 people, has announced a new plan to control contamination of its product.

The processor’s new program, unveiled Friday at the Delmarva Poultry Industry’s National Meeting on Poultry Health, will put $ 75 million towards reducing Salmonella in its raw products. The plan was developed in anticipation of new government microbiological standards for raw poultry parts, due to be announced soon, said Dr. Robert O’Connor, senior vice president for technical services Foster Farms.

The new strategy, O’Connor said, will center around an intensive data collection and analysis regimen.

The five-part plan will include the following elements:

- Collaboration and information sharing with all stakeholders, including regulatory agencies. The company has formed an advisory board to validate its methods.

- Extensive data collection: Sampling for Salmonella will be done on the ranch and throughout processing. The company has an internal lab, in which it plans to double testing from 80,000 tests to 160,000 tests per year.

- Analysis of internal data to identify trends at individual ranches and factors at different locations that could influence contamination.

- Acting on data: The company has established new procedures for environmental control in and around ranch houses to prevent spreading of Salmonella between flocks.

- Measuring results: According to O’Connell, Foster Farms is continuously measuring Salmonella levels at all stages of production and has recorded a continuous decline of Salmonella levels in packaged parts over the last seven months.

Between March 1, 2013 and July 11, 2014, 634 infections of multidrug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg were linked to raw chicken products from Foster Farms in 29 states.

Foster Farms’ chicken was also the source of a 13-state outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg that sickened 134 people, mostly in Washington and Oregon, between June 2012 and April 2013. 

Food Safety News

Backyard Farms® tomatoes considered ‘Best’ by Whole Foods

Backyard Farms® tomatoes considered ‘Best’ by Whole Foods

Backyard Farms has announced that Whole Foods Market has designated Backyard Farms tomatoes with a “Best” rating as part of the natural and organic foods retailer’s Responsibly Grown program.  This is the highest ranking that the grocer assigns to produce available for purchase in its stores.

The Whole Foods Market Responsibly Grown program was developed to reward farmers who work hard to protect human health and the environment, prohibit the use of the most harmful chemicals while measuring and reducing others, and provide consumers with an at-a-glance rating for sustainable farming practices.  The program is in direct response to issues facing the agricultural industry including the widespread use of pesticides, the accessibility of fresh water, the loss of farmable land due to erosion and other degradation, greenhouse gas emissions and the decline of bee and butterfly pollinator populations.

“We are thrilled to receive a ‘Best’ rating from Whole Foods Market,” said Stuart Jablon, president and COO of Backyard Farms.  “We share many of the same corporate values, of which several are recognized with this rating, and Whole Foods Market is an outstanding partner to work with both in general and as part of this rating process.  It is a strong statement that a grower of our size was able to work with Whole Foods Market in a meaningful and thoughtful manner.  Whole Foods Market set very high standards as part of this program and we appreciate that they were able to recognize and understand all of the hard work our employees put in to make these standards a reality for Backyard Farms customers.”

Backyard Farms earned the highest rating of “Best” by meeting or exceeding several criteria including 16 farming practices to protect air, soil, water and human health; no use of Whole Foods Market prohibited pesticides; water and energy conservation; advanced soil health; protection of rivers, lakes and oceans; farmworker health and safety; protection of bees and butterflies; and industry leadership on pest management and environmental protection.  The designation follows Whole Foods Market recently having named Backyard Farms its North Atlantic Region Produce Supplier of the Year.

Responsibly Grown ratings include “Good,” “Better” and “Best.”  Backyard Farms was selected to participate in the Responsibly Grown pilot program last year and was one of the first growers to receive the “Best” rating nationally.  Backyard Farms tomato varieties include Tomatoes on the Vine, Cocktail Tomatoes, Beefsteaks and its newest offering, Somerset Pinks.

For more information and store locations, visit www.backyardfarms.com.

Publication date: 11/5/2014


FreshPlaza.com

Thousands Sought Vaccines Following Townsend Farms Hep A Outbreak

Thousands of people in the western United States have received hepatitis A vaccines since news broke on May 31 of an outbreak linked to Townsend Farms frozen berry mixes sold at Costco stores.

More than 10,000 people have received the vaccine from Costco pharmacies alone, according to Craig Wilson, Costco’s vice president of quality assurance and food safety.

That number does not include the customers who have been vaccinated elsewhere and then brought in receipts to receive reimbursement from Costco, Wilson said. He was not sure of the number of reimbursements Costco had issued.

Wilson credited local and county health departments in affected states with handling countless more vaccinations. The only state health department contacted by Food Safety News that could report a solid figure of vaccines delivered by government health departments was Colorado, which had given out 397 shots across the state as of June 13.

The county health departments of Los Angeles and San Diego in California and Maricopa in Arizona each administered a large number of vaccines, Wilson said. Those health departments were not able to report actual numbers to Food Safety News as of press time. The California Department of Public Health was also not sure of how many shots had been given statewide.

(Update, 6/24: The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has told Food Safety News it has given out more than 900 vaccinations.)

Wilson also said it was worth noting that no microbial testing had actually found the outbreak strain of hepatitis A on any berries from Townsend Farms. The rare outbreak strain isolated from patients, genotype 1b, originates from North Africa and the Middle East, leading investigators to single out the berry mix’s pomegranate seeds imported from Turkey.

“There’s been no microbial connection to the food through today as far as I’m aware of,” Wilson said.

Costco plans to continue selling Townsend Farms products once the outbreak has resolved, Wilson said, “as long as they’re doing everything they’re supposed to from a quality and food safety and testing perspective.”

To date, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have linked 113 confirmed infections of hepatitis A to Townsend Farms’ Organic Antioxidant berry blend. Of those sick, 50 people have been hospitalized. Townsend Farms announced a recall of the product sold at Costco and Harris Teeter stores on June 4.

Costco estimates that it sold 330,000 bags of the recalled product since February 2013. The retailer said it has contacted approximately 240,000 customers via phone and letters to inform them of the recall.

Food Safety News

Acquisition gives Mack Farms additional acreage in Florida

Mack Farms Inc. is increasing its Florida potato and watermelon acreage and expanding into other fresh produce items with the purchase of a south Florida produce operation.

The Lake Wales, FL-based Mack Farms recently acquired Eagle Island Farms in Okeechobee, FL. Eagle Island grows and ships cabbage, potatoes, sweet corn and sweet onions from about 2,000 irrigated acres. The company is also experimenting with broccoli and plans to harvest new acreage of Napa and Bok Choy in February and March.Arnold-Mack-2014Arnold Mack

Mack grows and ships Florida potatoes from early February through June, and watermelon from April through early June. Watermelons are marketed through its subsidiary, McMelon Inc. Mack Farms.

“This move allows us to increase our irrigated acreage with good cropland, and will help with crop rotation,” Arnold Mack, president of Mack Farms, said in a press release. “We will continue to grow and ship fresh cabbage and sweet corn from the 40,000-square-foot Eagle Island packing facility, which has pre- cooling and refrigerated storage. It also gives us a second packinghouse for our spring watermelons.”

Arnold Mack entered the produce industry by growing watermelons in South Alabama in 1976. He was a pioneer of growing seedless watermelons, and during the 1980s started his Florida growing operations.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Itaueira Farms launches new sliced melon product

ANAHEIM, CA — Itaueira Farms, which markets premium extra-sweet melons from Brazil under the “REI” brand, introduced a new sliced melon pack at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit Convention & Expo, here.

The launch of the new product follows the 2013 debut of a fresh-cut melon pack, which featured chunks of the premium Brazilian Canary melons for which the company has built a following for the past several years.Itauera1

Rodrigo Lima, president of Crown International USA, the Coral Gables, FL-based North American marketing arm of Itaueira Farms, said the launch of the sliced melon pack is a continuation of the effort to offer more convenience for consumers who savor the flavor of the super premium melon.

“It’s ready to eat, with no fork necessary,” Lima said of the rind-on melon slices. “It’s very convenient for consumers and another way to help increase consumption of the melons.”

Lima said Itaueira is working to bring additional melon varieties from Brazil to the United States. He said the grower is about a year away from offering a Galia melon, and will have a limited supply of a Santa Claus melon as well.

“Itaueira has a policy of working with only the highest-quality producers in Brazil,” said Lima. “With the Galia melon, we have four years in research and development and expect to begin shipments next year. Right now, the Galia melons have a very good flavor, but they are too delicate to export. We found another seed that offers the high flavor and can withstand shipping, and next year we expect to be able to offer limited samples to key customers, but no commercial volumes yet.”

Carlos Prado, owner of Itaueira Farms, said that while the cost of production is higher for the premium melons he offers, his biggest concern is flavor.

“We don’t sell food – we sell flavor,” he said. “We want to sell a product that I want on my own table.”

Itaueira Farms has seen remarkable growth since 1999, when it first offered melons grown on about 20 acres. Today, it farms approximately 6,200 acres of melons, with the large majority — 90 percent — of product being consumed in Brazil. The remaining 10 percent is divided among Europe (6 percent) and the United States and Canada (4 percent combined).

Lima added that the new varieties already have U.S. Department of Agriculture clearance by virtue of the fact that they are grown in an area of Brazil deemed free of fruit flies.

Regarding food safety, Lima said Itaueira Farms has been in compliance with all Food & Drug Administration protocols for years, and has long met the strict GlobalGAP standards required in the European markets.

Additionally, each melon is labeled with traceability information, adding an extra layer of confidence in the quality and safety of the products.

At the PMA Fresh Summit, Itaueira was offering samples of the melons to visitors at the booth. Lima said sampling remains a key strategy to increasing sales of the melons, which carry a premium price at retail.

“The melons cost more at retail, but once people try them, they realize they are worth the price,” he said. “We encourage our retail customers to conduct sampling programs at their stores. When they do, they see a lot of repeat customers and the sales go up.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Chris Veillon to head marketing at Nature Fresh Farms

Nature Fresh Farms, a greenhouse vegetable grower located in Leamington, ON, announced that Chris Veillon will lead the company’s brand marketing efforts. With more than 17 years of senior marketing communications experience across a variety of industries, Veillon is a seasoned marketer with a proven track record of success.CHRIS VEILLON-Photo

“We are excited to add an experienced marketing professional like Chris to our expanding team at Nature Fresh Farms,” Peter Quiring, president of Nature Fresh Farms, said in a press release. “We have seen our business evolve considerably over the last few years, and in doing so we are putting more effort in to connecting with consumers via strategic marketing efforts.”

Long known as one of the leading greenhouse Bell pepper growers in North America, Nature Fresh also grows and markets an array of tomatoes, cucumbers, hot peppers and seasonal lettuce.

“I am very excited to be joining the Nature Fresh team and look forward to helping grow the company,” Veillon added in the press release.

Veillon will be based at the company’s headquarters office in Leamington.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Is Bill Gates buying up farms in Vidalia? Documents and growers link Microsoft founder to recent sales

VIDALIA, GA — It has been rumored and discussed on the streets here for months that the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or Cascade Investment LLC, the Gates’ private trust located in Kirkland, WA, is actively seeking to purchase producing farms in the Vidalia area, renowned for its sweet onions and the center of that industry.

Already, two entities — Coggins Farms in Lake Park, GA, and more recently Stanley Farms and its subsidiaries in Lyons, GA — have been sold and, while the trail is murky, documents and interviews with other Vidalia-area growers link the purchases to Kirkland and seemingly to Gates.Gates-1Vidalia, GA, produces the most famous onion in the world. What growers here want to know is why Bill Gates seemingly wants to be in the sweet onion business — and why he apparently does not want that fact widely known. (Photo by Chip Carter)

The Produce News recently obtained a copy of a letter written by Stanley Farms General Manager Vince Stanley to vendors and suppliers dated Oct. 1 and headlined, “Re: Change of Ownership.” An included W-9 IRS form showed that while the business name of the operation is Stanley Produce Georgia LLC, the owner is the Mt. Hood Administration Trust, with a listed address of a post office box in Kirkland. There is no readily available information on the trust.

Stanley wrote, “On Oct. 1, Stanley Produce Georgia LLC purchased the interests of [Stanley Farms subsidiaries] Vidalia Valley, Manning Farms and Vidalia Onion Farms. Please accept this letter as notice of such a change. The Stanley Family wants to personally let you, our valued customer, know that the entire staff you have come to rely on will 100 percent stay in place and will only add quality folks to better serve you!”

One visitor to the Stanley Farms Facebook page posted two questions about the sale, the second of which read, “Is or has Bill Gates already bought your farm business via Cascade Investments…? Seems he already bought Coggins Farms awhile back.”

Neither post had received a reply as of Oct. 13, when The Produce News‘ queries regarding the sale began; by mid-day Oct. 14, both posts had been removed.

The Produce News contacted the Gates Foundation, Cottonwood AG (based in Naperville, IL and thought to be an agricultural assets management operation for Gates’ interests) and others Oct. 13, but there were no replies to requests for information or interviews.

Derek Yurosek of Cottonwood AG, whose name has been mentioned by several Vidalia growers as a participant in some of the proceedings and whose LinkedIn profile shows a Kirkland address, forwarded The Produce News‘ email seeking information to several other Cottonwood AG email addresses and others from Los Arboles Management LLC, which also has a listed address of a post office box in Kirkland, albeit a different one. His message atop the email simply read, “Please do not respond.” It is unclear whether Yurosek intended to copy The Produce News on that email.

While the Gates connection is still just rumor to some, others claim more intimate knowledge of the dealings.

“I’ve actually met with them,” said one well-placed grower who asked to remain anonymous.

Gates’ agricultural interests are well-known. He has been an active and ongoing crusader in developing countries, helping provide locals with means of improving subsistence farming operations.

What everyone in Vidalia would like to know is why Gates seemingly wants to be in the sweet onion business — and why he apparently does not want that fact widely known if that is indeed the case.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

US (CA): Farms angry at Labor Department crackdown on suspected worker abuses

US (CA): Farms angry at Labor Department crackdown on suspected worker abuses

An attempted crackdown on minimum wage and child labor violations at berry farms in the Pacific Northwest has sparked a backlash that threatens one of the U.S. Labor Department’s most potent tools for enforcing protections for farm workers.

At issue is the little-known “hot goods’’ provision of federal wage law. It allows the government to halt shipments of goods produced in violation of employment laws. The weapon has been used mainly to combat minimum wage and overtime pay abuses by garment makers but, under President Barack Obama, federal officials have invoked the hot goods provision against farm owners somewhat more often than earlier administrations.

Farm worker advocates have pressed the Labor Department to keep using the tactic against exploitative growers. They argue that aggressive action is needed to fight abuses that government inspectors have found for decades on U.S. farms.

Farmers and their political allies – including the powerful American Farm Bureau Federation – have lined up behind a bill in Congress to prevent authorities from using the hot goods provision to stop shipments of perishable crops like berries. Even if the bill does not pass the gridlocked Congress, worker advocates worry that the backlash might have a chilling effect on the agency, or that its use of the tactic could be restricted through the budget process.

Critics argue that the hot goods provision never was intended to apply to farm products that can spoil quickly. They say it puts producers in an impossible situation: Pay the penalties, even if you don’t agree with the Labor Department’s accusations, or watch your crop rot.

Under the Obama administration, the government has used the weapon in various states, including actions against a Massachusetts sprout grower and a Hawaiian basil producer charged with violating minimum wage laws – and a wave of Labor Department inspections of Washington and Oregon farms in 2011 and 2012.

The department wound up citing three farms in Ridgefield and Woodland, Wash., in 2011 for child labor violations and collecting $ 73,050 in back wages and penalties. In late July, the Labor Department sued three blueberry farms in southeastern Washington’s Walla Walla County, accusing them of a “hot goods” violation for allegedly failing to pay minimum wage and overtime to pickers and packing workers. The growers – Blue Mountain Farms LLC , Great Columbia Berry Farm LLC and Applegate Orchards LLC – have yet to file an answer. Their attorney, Tim Bernasek, said the growers will contest the methods the Labor Department’s used to determine whether violations occurred.

However, the biggest flashpoint was a crackdown on three Oregon blueberry farms that allegedly underpaid about 1,000 workers. To extract roughly $ 240,000 in back wages, damages and penalties, the Labor Department said it would use its hot goods authority to get a court order to halt the shipment of what the growers estimate was $ 5.5 million of fruit.

The three growers paid up, saying they felt they had no other choice. Instead of helping lots of workers, however, the Labor Department has provoked push-back from critics who say the agency has gone rogue and made unsubstantiated allegations against the berry growers.

Their cause has been taken up by lawmakers led by Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., who calls the use of the hot goods provision on farms “extortion.”

Two of the Oregon blueberry growers, meanwhile, have won a court ruling that voided their settlements with the government because it was made under what the judge called “economic duress.” This month the Labor Department said in a court document that it had returned all but one-third of the growers’ money –everything except for what already was paid to some of the workers.

In all, the Labor Department has used its hot goods authority against growers in at least 20 cases since 2010, according to a review of agency data and news releases. The actions took aim at shipments of fruits, nuts and vegetables. Since 2001, the agency has invoked its hot goods authority more than 4,000 times overall, covering a wide range of industries.

The big hammer

Bernasek, the lawyer for the farms, had seen hot goods cases before, but this one had an important distinction. In previous cases, the money farmers paid went into escrow, so that workers would be paid only if violations were proved. This time, however, the escrow option wasn’t offered, and if the farmers fought back, they feared that they would lose their harvest.

Bernasek says his clients paid settlements only to avoid letting their berries rot. “If you’re walking down a dark alley at night and someone puts a gun to your head and says, ‘Give me you wallet,’ you can decide not to give them your wallet, but you’re going to get shot,” he said.

Weil declined to comment on the dispute except to say that the agency decides whether to hold money in escrow based on the facts of each case. According to a court transcript from December, Jeremiah Miller, a Labor Department lawyer, said the money was not put into escrow because the agency was “driving a hard bargain.”

The Labor Department inspectors concluded that minimum wage violations were widespread on the Oregon farms, based partly on an assumption that a single worker could be expected to pick no more than 55.5 pounds of berries per hour.

But the farmers contend the Labor Department’s estimates are way off. One hired a retired Labor Department investigator who calculated, after observing a group of pickers, that even the slowest one brought in 112 pounds per hour.

In the summer of 2013 – a year after signing the agreements with the Labor Department – two of the farms, Ditchen and PanAmerican, filed their successful motion to nullify the consent agreements. U.S. Magistrate Thomas Coffin wrote: “When one party must agree to a comparatively minor penalty or lose millions simply to engage in the judicial process, such heavy handed leverage is fraught with economic duress brought about by an unfair advantage.”

Source: thenewstribune.com

Publication date: 10/15/2014


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