This year’s finalists for American Vegetable Grower’s (AVG) annual Grower Achievement Award are committed to excellence in everything they do. As you will read below, the five farms listed strive to do whatever it takes to reduce food safety risks, market their produce effectively, and be good stewards of the land â€” among other things.
The winner will be announced in the September issue. The award will be presented at the United Washington Public Policy Conference in October.
To determine the winner, a panel of judges was assembled to discuss the merits of each finalist. AVG received many nominations again this year with several outstanding candidates. What follows are highlights gleaned from the five finalists.
The Chef’s Garden
The Chef’s Garden delivers sustainably grown specialty produce direct from the farm to restaurants around the world.
The farm uses advanced food safety programs that include routine testing and a bar-coding system that tracks a product from seed to shipping. As food safety is critical on the farm, Bob Jones Jr., a past president of the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association, has been very involved in developing the Ohio Produce Marketing Agreement.
Focusing mainly on customer service, the operation likes to see the produce go from earth to table in less than 24 hours. Catering to the needs of chefs, the farm strives to develop products in new sizes, colors, textures, and flavors.
The Chef’s Garden also has a strong focus on promoting the health benefits of vegetables to children. Veggie U, a not for profit program founded by the farm, is designed to teach fourth graders about how vegetables are produced and the benefits of good nutrition.
Known for being a leader in new market development and specialty crop marketing, Formisano Farms sells its produce through wholesale channels, including shippers at the Vineland and Landisville Co-ops, as well as their own shipping company.
Named the Fennel King of South Jersey by New York Times food writer and cookbook author Craig Claiborne, their signature crop has been featured in numerous media outlets, promoting the variety and quality of produce grown in the greater Vineland area.
Owner, John Formisano Sr. has been an active leader in numerous farm groups and a promoter of the Vegetable Growers Association of New Jersey.
Ralph takes care of the daily sales, office records, and pesticide applications through Collingswood Community Farmers’ Market and direct business-to-business deliveries to florists throughout the greater Philadelphia region.
John Jr. is gradually taking over the reins of production from the greenhouse transplant and nursery production through field operations. The acres are double- and sometimes triple-cropped each season, producing fresh market greens and herbs from early April through November.
Location: Yuma, AZ
Owner: Gary Pasquinelli
Vegetable Acres: 8,500
Crops: Watermelon, cauliflower, celery, broccoli, spinach, romaine, iceberg, red leaf, green leaf, and butter lettuce
Davie Brooks has been the grower at Pasquinelli Produce for more than 33 years and runs the day-to-day field operations. He is said to be one of the first growers to successfully implement a cauliflower trap crop system in the 1990s against sweetpotato whiteflies.
Brooks and assistant grower Calvin Morris also were involved with building a machine that could gently load watermelon off the left or right side, simplifying the harvesting process and cutting labor by about 35%. In addition, Brooks says thanks to the machine, the workers don’t walk on the vines.
Pasquinelli regularly uses drip irrigation for both melons and vegetable production and has adapted it to desert growing conditions. The operation also uses floating row covers for winter melon production for both earliness and aphid-virus control.
Pasquinelli has a strict crop rotational program aimed at sustaining soil health and weed management. The farm also employs two in-house entomologists.
|TKM Bengard Farms, LLC
Location: Belle Glade, FL
Owners: TKM farms, Inc. and Bengard Harvesting
Vegetable Acres: 6,500-plus
Crops: Iceberg lettuce, romaine, green leaf, boston, endive, escarole, cabbage, parsley, cilantro, frisee, radicchio, sweet corn, cantaloupe, and honeydew melons
TKM Bengard Farms is a family operation that has grown lettuce for four generations. The Basore family first began growing lettuce on muck soil in Michigan as a rotational crop for onions. In 1969, they started growing lettuce in Belle Glade, FL. Eventually they became a major lettuce supplier for South Bay Growers. In 1996, the Basores first partnered with the Bengard family out of Salinas, CA.
The varieties of lettuce, as well as other crops grown on the farm, are diverse as the operation changes to meet the needs of the health-conscious consumer. They strive to ensure food quality and food safety by implementing the latest technology throughout their growing, harvesting, pre-cooling, and shipping operations.
TKM Bengard Farms is the largest lettuce grower east of the Mississippi river. Their success has been largely possible due to the growth of the bag salad industry and it has been sustained by the demand for regional wrap lettuce.
Location: Finleyville, PA
Owners: Bob Trax Sr., John Trax, and Tim Trax
Vegetable Acres: 300
Crops: Strawberries, sweet corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, plus fruit crops
Trax Farms was established by Lewis Trax in 1865 and has been operated by the family for six generations with the seventh generation now working on the farm. President Bob Trax Sr., who received the Master Farmer Award in 1997, has been a member of the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association for more than 20 years. For more than 15 years, Trax also has been a member of the marketing research board in Pennsylvania.
One of the farm’s goals is to do whatever it can to retail all of its crops. The result is a farm market that is open year-round. An expansion in 2000 added 40,000 square feet of greenhouses to the operation.
Agritourism is another important aspect of the business. The farm offers U-pick strawberries and blueberries, and hosts numerous events.
Trax Farms also donates produce to local food banks and received an award from Meals on Wheels Asso-ciation of America.