A Look At The Finalists

A Look At The Finalists

They say the third time is the charm. Well, what about number six? American Vegetable Grower (AVG) will present the sixth annual Grower Achievement Award next month to a superior vegetable operation. Once again, we had some very deserving farms in the running.

The 2007 award, sponsored by Syngenta Seeds/ROGERS Brand in cooperation with United Fresh Produce Association, is presented annually by AVG to a grower operation that is an industry role model. The nominations were evaluated based on each of the  farms’ achievements in the following areas: consumer-oriented marketing, use of innovative technology, food safety and food quality, industry leadership, and spirit of achievement.

A panel of industry experts has already met to discuss each of the finalists and the winner will be announced in the September issue. The award will be presented at the United Fresh Washington Public Policy Conference in Washington, DC, Sept. 12-14. What follows are highlights about this year’s finalists.

Pacific Tomato Growers, Ltd.

Palmetto, FL
Owners: Esformes and Heller families
Vegetable acres: 12,826
Crops: Field-grown round, grape, and Roma tomatoes

For four generations, Pacific Tomato Growers (PTG) has been built on quality, attention to detail, and customer service. The farm is a certified Socially Accountable Farm Employer and regularly meets or exceeds GAPs and Good Manufacturing Practices. The farm was also recognized for environmental leadership by the Florida Department of Agriculture because of its unique water reuse and recycle system, which has reduced runoff into the Myakka River by almost 90%.

Members of the Heller and Esformes families have held, and continue to hold, leadership positions with groups such as the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, the Florida Citrus Commission, the California Fresh Tomato Growers Cooperative, and the Produce Marketing Association, among many others.

Giving back to the community, PTG, Heller Bros. Packing, Pacific Triple E, and Pacific Collier Fresh hosts the SUNRIPE Migrant Scholarship Fund Golf Classic each year to raise money for an endowment fund for migrant students majoring in education. Since 2000, more than $1.2 million has been raised.

R.C. Hatton Farms Inc.

Pahokee, FL
Owners: Roger Hatton and Paul Allen
Vegetable acres: 7,400
Crops: Green beans and sweet corn

Feeding hungry Americans during the Great Depression was the goal of Robert C. Hatton when he founded his company in the 1930s. The farm has since grown from a few hundred acres to 7,400. Roger, Robert’s son, took over the business in the 1960s.

Because of the demand for microwave-ready products, R.C. Hatton recently opened a state-of-the-art packinghouse with Pope Farms and Hugh Branch that packages sweet corn in two- and four-ear microwaveable tray packs. The company’s packinghouses are Primus-approved and certified by Scientific Certification Systems in California. They are also certified by Tesco/Nature’s Choice, which sets environmental standards and shape, size, taste, variety, and shelflife requirements. R.C. Hatton received a gold rating, the highest possible, in 2006.

Both owners hold leadership positions in the industry. Allen and Hatton are on the South Florida Water Conservancy District board of directors, and Hatton is a former president of the Florida Sweet Corn Exchange. Allen is the current president of the Exchange, and under his leadership, production has increased and prices have remained stable during the past six years.

The Chef’s Garden

Huron, OH
Owners: Bob Jones, Lee Jones,
and Bob Jones, Jr.
Vegetable acres: 150
Crops: 600 varieties of vegetables, micro greens, and herbs

This farm grows produce for top chefs in addition to 87 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, 100 different micro greens, micro herbs, and flowers, and more than 500 experimental crops.

The Chef’s Garden has been approved by and received superior ratings from food safety and quality companies, including the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the USDA, Primus, and the American Institute of Baking. A full-time safety specialist, soil consultants, and outside food safety consultants are available on the farm. This farm is hazard analysis critical control points (HACCP) certified, and is GAPS certified by Ceres International.

In response to the growing problem of childhood obesity, The Chef’s Garden started its Veggie U program, which is designed to teach kids the importance of eating fruits and vegetables. To date, the program has been used in more than 600 classrooms in 28 states.

Holding a leadership position in the industry, Bob Jones, Jr. is president of the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association.

Anthony Farms, Inc.

Scandanavia, WI
Owners: Vic and Chris Anthony
Vegetable acres: 4,500
Crops: Beans, corn, peas, potatoes, and alfalfa

This family owned and operated farm boasts year-round potato storage facilities, a modern grading and packaging facility, sales and marketing office, and a long-distance trucking company.

Anthony Farms has been a leader and category partner in the U.S. Potato Board (USPB) Best in Class program, and has been active in bringing the Best in Class and Category Management Training to shippers in Wisconsin. The farm recently developed a Healthy Grown tray pack that uses a biodegradable tray.

Since 1991, the Anthonys have participated in an extensive food safety program, and consistently score “Superior” ratings on food safety audits. The farm has a record keeping program that traces back produce to the field in which it was grown.

The Anthonys have amassed many leadership positions in state and national organizations. Chris has been on the USPB, National Potato Council, and United Potato Growers of Wisconsin board of directors, among others. Vic is currently on the National Potato Council Board of Directors.

Patterson Farm INC.

China Grove, NC
Owners: Randall and Doug Patterson
Vegetable acres: 415
Crops: Strawberries, tomatoes, pumpkins, greenhouse poinsettias, cantaloupes, and vegetables

This third-generation family farm is one of the biggest strawberry and tomato producers in North Carolina. Patterson Farm has been recognized as “Gold Star Growers” by the North Carolina Department of Labor for their labor practices and housing.

The farm has participated in the Department of Labor’s H-2A worker program since its inception in 1992, and helps the Department with procedures and training videos for other growers. Patterson Farm, Inc. was also an early adopter of no-till tomatoes, and participates in North Carolina State University research projects. The farm was one of the first to work with methyl bromide alternatives.

Doug was president of the North Carolina Strawberry Association and served three years on the county Farm Service Agency board, and is currently the President of the North Carolina Vegetable Growers Association.

The farm was named the 2006 Agribusiness of the Year by the North Carolina Agribusiness Council.

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