2009 Grower Achievement Award Finalists
Alstede Farms LLC
Owners: Kurt & Barbara Alstede
Nominated by Rick VanVranken on behalf of NJAES/RCE Vegetable Working Group
Acres in Production: 500
Crops: 100 different fresh market vegetables, fruit, flowers
Number of Employees: to be determined
Alstede Farms is one of the largest fresh market vegetable, fruit, and flower farms in densely populated suburban northern New Jersey and is within an hour’s drive of New York City. A year-round retail market is complemented by several retail and agritourism enterprises.
After successfully establishing his agricultural business prowess primarily in grain and wholesale vegetable and fruit markets, Kurt Alstede has developed a diversified retail marketing business to sell his 500-plus acres of fresh market fruit, vegetables, and flowers. In addition to an on-farm, year-round full-feature (produce, plants, bakery, homemade soups and ice cream, wine) market, Alstede Farms features pick-your-own, school tours, on-farm summer camps, hayrides, parties, harvest festivals, and sales at community farmers markets. Outreach includes a constantly updated website with subscriptions available for news and sales announcements. Alstede Farms is also a regular resource for local food and farm reporters, as evidenced by frequent citations by Newark Star-Ledger Food columnist Mary Ann Castronovo Fusco.
Alstede Farms is a frequent cooperator with Rutgers Cooperative Extension Ag Agent Peter Nitzsche and an innovative adopter of new technologies. Summer crops are grown on plastic mulch with drip irrigation. No-till pumpkins and corn are standard plantings. In addition to the marketing enterprises described in Section A, new value-added products have been featured in his market (homemade ice cream with Alstede Farms’ produce). Kurt utilizes the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Integrated Pest Management scouting and management strategies and was recognized as the Cooperator of the Year in 1997. Recognizing the importance of this service, Kurt was instrumental in securing funding through the New Jersey Highlands Council to maintain a scout position to serve the farming community in the highlands region of the state.
Food Quality Safety
As a primarily fresh market retail operation with a number of food enterprises in addition to produce sales, Alstede Farms is under constant scrutiny by local and state health department inspectors, as well as labor department inspectors reviewing labor housing and payroll. Alstede maintains a clean record of inspection for everything from housing to market conditions and on-farm processing.
You can easily find examples of Alstede Farms’ leadership, activism, and community outreach with a quick visit to their website, AlstedeFarms.com. The home page sports a link to “click here to help save New Jersey agriculture,” in response to the recent proposal by the Governor to eliminate the New Jersey Dept of Agriculture from state government. This link pops up on several other pages as well. You can read a transcript of Kurt’s testimony on behalf of the NJDA at the State Budget Hearings. A closer look through the website also reveals links to “request for donation,” stating they will consider any and all requests from charitable organizations, and a story about their upcoming flag retirement ceremony with the local American Legion Post.
What doesn’t show up on the website is Kurt’s impressive resume about the leadership positions he has held or currently holds. From his resume: Civic Activities: 2004-Present Appointed by New Jersey Governor McGreevey as a public member of the “New Jersey Highlands Council.” 2000-2006 Appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the New Jersey State Committee of the Farm Service Agency, United States Department of Agriculture. 2000-Present Chester Township Republican committee. 1999-Present Chester Township Open Space committee. 1987-1992 Two term Councilman-Township of Chester. 1993-1994 Transition Team – Governor Elect, Christie Whitman. 1982-Present Life Member of the Chester Volunteer Fire Co. #1; President 1996-1999 Vice President 2000 Treasurer 1987. 1997-Present Member, First Congregational Church of Chester. 1999-Present Member, Jockey Hollow Stamp Club, Morristown, New Jersey; President 2003-2006. Agricultural Activities: 1982-Present Member New Jersey Farm Bureau; Director 1988-1989. 1982-Present Morris County Board of Agriculture; President 2003-2004. 1987-1988 American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee. 1987-1998 Morris County Farm Service Agency, USDA, Committee Member.
Spirit of Achievement
It is usually said that it is nearly impossible to start farming from scratch without coming from a farm family. Kurt Alstede beat the odds, not only coming from a non-farm family, but in creating a successful farm business in one of the most expensive land and labor areas of the country. He started in 1982 renting land from community residents, helping them qualify for farmland assessment by growing hay, grain, and a few vegetable crops. As he acquired land and preserved it through farmland preservation programs, he slowly transitioned into fruit, vegetables and agritourism.
Today, Kurt is a leader in the community, the state ag industry, and has a thriving 500-plus acre farm, still in the heart of some of the most expensive real estate in the country. For his success and achievements, Kurt has a long list of awards and recognition: 2008 Grower of the Year Award, New Jersey Vegetable Growers’ Association; 2005 Tony Russo Marketing Award, New Jersey Agricultural Society; 1999 Good Citizen Award, Boy Scouts of America; 1997 New Jersey Integrated Pest Management Cooperator of the Year; 1989 Master Farmer Award; 1987 New Jersey State Outstanding Young Farmer; 1987 Chester Citizen of the Year; 1987 New Jersey State Conservation Farmer of the Year; 1979 Eagle Scout, Boy Scouts of America.
Buurma Farms, Inc.
Owners: 12 different shareholders: Ric, Greg, Ryan, Bruce, Mike, Loren, Dan, Henry, Chadd, Nathan, Aaron and Bryan Buurma
Nominated by Nathan Buurma
Acres in Production: Approximately 4,000
Crops: radishes, celery, carrots, southern greens, green beans, parsleys, cilantro, dill, sweet corn, peppers, cucumbers, green onions, beets, zucchini, summer squash and cabbage
Number of Employees: 25 full-time, 350 part-time
Buurma Farms, Inc. is a vegetable farm that grows about 20 different items and markets another 10 items. The headquarters is in Willard (Celeryville), OH, and it has separate farms in Gregory, Michigan, and Claxton, GA. (The farm in Claxton is BFG Produce LLC, which stands for Buurma Farms Georgia.) The company has been in existence since 1896, operating under the names of F. Buurma & Sons, Buurma Brothers, and Buurma Farms, Inc. BFG Produce LLC was created in 2006. Twelve fourth and fifth generation Buurma shareholders currently run the day-to-day operations of the corporation. The company is run as a family operation, with a strong emphasis on its Christian heritage. Buurma Farms is proud to be part of the produce industry and is serious in its commitment to help feed a hungry world with a high-quality product.
Buurma Farms, Inc. is entering its 113th year of supplying fresh, healthy and safe vegetables to the American consumer. Many things have changed since that original 1896 crop of 4 acres of celery, but one constant certainly has remained the same: Buurma Farms’ continual desire to provide the freshest of vegetables to its customers. Originally, Buurma Farms merely had a local marketing approach, trying to service customers within a 75-mile radius of its home in Celeryville, OH. The lack of consistent, reliable refrigeration methods demanded quick delivery after harvest. About 113 years later, the company still prides itself on the ability to have its product delivered to two-thirds of the nation’s population within 24 hours of harvest.
The marketing strategy of efficient harvest in a quality fashion with timely delivery is as important today as it was in 1896. In the mid 1970s, the company acquired an additional 1,200 acres of muckland in Gregory, MI, to go along with the 1,000 acres accumulated over the years in the Celeryville area. The marketing strategy thus extended to distanced supply areas to ensure a more consistent supply that would be less prone to adverse weather. The company furthered its regional, distanced marketing strategy with the creation of BFG Produce LLC in Claxton, GA, in 2006. BFG also allows the company to extend product availability both in early spring and late fall to accommodate its northern counterparts.
To go along with the traditional produce packing methods, the company was one of the first to offer cello radishes in resealable bags. The sophisticated scaling and packaging machinery for the radish operation ensures a top-notch, second-to-none packaging ability. Custom packing of radishes for certain chains and wholesalers has proven to be an extremely successful partnership between Buurma Farms and these select marketers. Because of brand name recognition, the strategy is a win-win for all involved.
To go along with its state-of-the-art radish packing facility, the company uses a custom-built green onion packing line to offer some of the finest onions in the industry. Customized harvest aids ensure the timeliest and highest quality methods of producing celery, lettuce, summer squash, cucumbers, and sweet corn. This combination of quality hand-harvest along with efficient accompanying machinery is yet another instance of innovative technology, ensuring a premium pack across the board. All three locations of the operation use the computerized DataTrack touch probe time-keeping system. This innovative tool ensures accurate pay for both hourly and piece-rate work, while at the same time it gives the company a superb tool for analyzing costs associated with the planting, upkeep and harvest of each crop. Land management software combines GPS generated maps with detailed maintenance records of every field and every crop.
Food Quality and Safety
Between regularly scheduled third-person audits, a corporate officer dedicated to safety issues and regularly scheduled company wide safety meetings, Buurma Farms makes employee and produce safety a paramount issue. Internal paperwork tracks all dates and location of harvest. This, along with packaging labels, stickers and bar coding, gives the company a quick and efficient traceback system. The corporate safety officer stays current with all safety and regulatory issues and reports regularly and directly to the board of directors with updates and recommendations. Buurma Farms has received numerous commendations from the Bureau of Worker’s Compensation for its efforts to provide a safe working environment for its employees.
Buurma Farms has prided itself on taking an active leadership role in the industry. Both Frank Buurma (deceased) and his son Bruce have served as presidents of the Ohio Produce Growers & Marketers Association (formerly the Ohio Vegetable & Potato Growers Association). Loren Buurma currently serves on that board of directors. Chadd Buurma was a member of the 11th class of the United Fresh Produce Industry Leadership Program. Multiple Buurma’s have been actively involved with the Leafy Greens Council. Also, many of the officers have served at the community level by being on various hospital, school, township and church boards.
Spirit of Achievement
As growing and marketing vegetables becomes more and more challenging on an annual basis, Buurma Farms continues to expand its operations and its customer base. Immigration, regulatory, and inflationary issues have obvious direct repercussions throughout the produce industry, and Buurma Farms constantly strives to stay at the forefront of these issues. The officers meet as often as possible with state and federal officials to further its, and the industry’s as a whole, agenda. Fourth and fifth generation family members now run the company, and they all remain extremely proud to be part of a company that has been in this industry for 113 years. Buurma Farms continues to operate as a Christian organization and takes great pride in safely and healthfully helping to feed a hungry world.
Coloma Farms, Inc.
Owners: Steve and Andy Diercks
Nominated by: Tamas Houlihan
Acres in Production: 1,800
Crops: potatoes, field corn, soybeans
Number of Employees: 10 full time; 10 part time
Coloma Farms is a potato and vegetable growing operation located in the Central Sands region of Wisconsin. The farm raises potatoes for the fresh market as well as for processing into French fries at McCain Foods USA in Plover, WI. The farm is also one of the pioneers in raising Wisconsin’s environmentally-friendly potatoes, the Healthy Grown brand.
In 1996, Coloma Farms was one of the original participants in Wisconsin’s Healthy Grown program, whereby potatoes are grown under the Protected Harvest certification program. Protected Harvest certification ensures that Wisconsin Healthy Grown potatoes are grown in compliance with the most environmentally-sound standards for soil, water, and native wildlife. Under this program, all farming practices are audited and certified, and only potatoes from these certified farms are harvested and packed under the Healthy Grown brand name. In 2005, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recognized the Wisconsin potato industry for its leadership role in integrated pest management, moving toward sustainable agriculture with the Healthy Grown concept. Steve Diercks represented Wisconsin when the state received the prestigious “Gift to the Earth” award from the WWF.
Coloma Farms is among the nation’s leaders in terms of adopting state-of-the-art technology in its farming practices. The Diercks work closely with the University of Wisconsin, including research trials on their farm. The trials cover a wide range of practices, including the use of new crop protection products as well as differing rates and timings of those products; new varieties; different crop rotational practices; integrated pest management; and using computerized models for best management practices as well as accurate record-keeping.
Food Quality and Safety
Coloma Farms is GAP certified. The farm’s use of the SureHarvest computer record-keeping program demonstrates a strong commitment to food safety and traceback capability.
The name “Diercks” is synonymous with leadership in the potato industry. When Andy Diercks was elected president of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) in 2002, he became the fourth generation in his family to serve as WPVGA president. Andy’s father, Steve, served as president of the WPVGA in 1989; grandfather, Robert Diercks, served as WPVGA president from 1975-76; and great-grandfather Ben H. Diercks was the association’s first president in 1948-49.
Steve Diercks also served as president of the Wisconsin Potato Industry Board (WPIB) in 2001, and continues to serve on the WPIB Board of Directors. He has served on the National Potato Promotion Board (now the United States Potato Board) and is currently on the University of Wisconsin College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Board of Visitors and has been a Trustee of the Village of Coloma.
Andy is currently the Chairman of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Board, as well as serving on the United States Potato Board. He is the past president of the Wisconsin Agricultural Stewardship Initiative. Steve and Andy have both won the WPVGA’s Young Grower of the Year Award and Coloma Farms won the Environmental Stewardship Award from the National Potato Council in 1996.
Spirit of Achievement
Steve and Andy Diercks were selected to be the “poster children” for the Wisconsin Healthy Grown program because, as they have said, “It’s simply the right thing to do.” On one of the promotional posters for the program, Andy is quoted as saying the following: “My dad says to find the noble purpose in what you do. For farming, that’s about producing food that is truly good for people and caring for the land that feeds us.” Steve and Andy Diercks have given back a tremendous amount of their time, effort, and money to the potato and vegetable industry. I could not imagine a more worthy choice than Coloma Farms for the Grower Achievement Award.
Ed Hansen Farms, Inc.
Owners: Ed Hansen Jr.
Nominated by Elizabeth Bihn, Cornell University
Crops: cabbage, carrots, snap beans, sweet corn, pumpkins
Acres in Production: 2,500
Employees: full-time 8; part time 20
In 1955 Ed Hansen Sr. decided to take a risk and invest in 100 acres of farmland in the town of Stanley, NY. His willingness to take risks has provided many rewards for not only himself but generations after as well. Ed Hansen Farms in 1955 consisted of 18-20 dairy cows, and 100 acres of farm land. Of these 100 acres, 6 acres were devoted to cabbage growing. When planting with a one-row cabbage transplanter, this is a lot of acres! Cabbage was the only processing crop grown on the farm until the 60s. In 1961, Ed Hansen Farms began doing business with Birdseye Foods, a relationship that is still going strong today. The year 1975 brought another generation to Ed Hansen Farms as Ed Jr. became a full-time member of the establishment.
At the time, the farm was heavily involved in vegetables that could be machine harvested. With the addition of Ed Jr. and the purchase of its first cabbage harvester, the farm began expanding its cabbage market. Responding to consumer demands for more cabbage, the farm began handling its first fresh market cabbage in the early 1980s. Through the 80s and 90s and into the present, Ed Jr. has taken the cabbage production at Ed Hansen Farms from a local kraut operation into a nationwide fresh market cabbage supplier. In 2003, Ed Hansen Farms worked 2,500 acres of land distributed to cabbage, corn, carrots, and beans. The year 2003 also brought on the addition of the third generation at Ed Hansen Farms. Upon graduation from college, Eric came on board to help with cabbage sales and establish a solid food safety program. As times have changed, so has the farm. The ability to respond to consumers’ demands and the demands of the business world are paramount to the success of Ed Hansen Farms, Inc.
The foundation to Ed Hansen Farms Inc.’s marketing program is a high quality product supported by high quality service. Eric Hansen, Vice President and Food Safety Coordinator at Ed Hansen Farms Inc., stresses that doing business is about building a partnership with buyers, not just establishing purchasing contracts because, in the end, both successes and failures will be shared. By developing these productive partnerships, the farm and the companies that buy from the farm are more likely to succeed and surpass set expectations because of strong communication and a commitment to quality and safety. This includes offering different packaging options and varieties to meet buyer needs. In addition to establishing partnerships, farm personnel keep abreast of industry trends and expectations, such as developing farm specific food safety and sustainability plans. This focus on high quality personal service supported by progressive industry practices highlights Ed Hansen Farms Inc.’s marketing strategy. Though their operation does not market directly to consumers, it results in consumers having access to safe, nutritious, and tasty fresh produce.
Ed Hansen Farms Inc. adopts new technologies that support the goal of producing and providing a safe, high-quality product. Working with plant pathologists and entomologists, they participate in studies to determine the most effective pest control strategies through both cultural practices and chemical applications. They have been critical in studies to improve control strategies for black rot disease of cabbage and also cabbage thrips. They also utilize available technologies to ensure their product quality through innovative storage and shipping practices. They have built state-of-the-art cold storage facilities to keep cabbage at the optimal temperature and humidity during storage. These facilities are not only used by Hansen Farms, but by other growers in the area as well. Maintaining product quality during transit is also critical, so Hansen Farms includes data loggers with produce to monitor the temperature of the product while in transit. These innovative technologies not only maintain quality, but help ensure safety by maintaining the cold chain. By actively participating in research and following industry trends, Ed Hansen Farms Inc. personnel have tested and adopted technologies to keep their farm practices on the progressive technology edge.
Food Quality and Safety
Ed Hansen Farms Inc. was the first farm in New York to have a written and USDA audited food safety program. This program was developed by Eric Hansen and is supported by Sheila Nellis, the warehouse supervisor, who coordinates the record keeping protocols. These record keeping protocols support a company-wide traceability system that is tested by farm personnel when they conduct mock recalls. As with many fresh produce operations, Ed Hansen Farms has been audited by several third-party food safety audit companies. In each audit they have been subjected to, they have received a score of 100% in the traceback section of the audits.
Not only does Ed Hansen Farms have their own food safety program, but they are also industry leaders in helping other farms establish effective food safety programs. Since the late 1990s, Ed Hansen Jr. has been involved with the National Good Agricultural Practices Program at Cornell University assisting extension educators with the development of food safety education materials for fresh produce growers. He has reviewed educational materials and participated in the development of a GAPs training video that is used by growers throughout the US to train workers in food safety practices. Currently, Eric Hansen is serving on the advisory board for the Good Agricultural Practices Online Produce Safety Course where he actively contributes to food safety curriculum content and discussions related to content relevancy and implementation at the farm level. This demonstrated commitment to food safety in their own company as well as across the fresh produce industry has truly benefited all fresh produce consumers by improving food safety practices and helping to ensure safety.
Industry leadership is not just a company policy but a family tradition at Ed Hansen Farms Inc., with three generations of Hansens serving on the New York State (NYS) Vegetable Growers Association Board of Directors; Ed Hansen Sr., Dawn Hansen, and Eric Hansen. Today, under the leadership of Ed Hansen Jr., farm personnel continue to be actively involved in the vegetable industry and have clear, demonstrated leadership experiences. Ed Hansen Jr. is currently president of the NYS Agri-Business Child Development (ABCD) Board. The ABCD is a non-profit provider of child development services for infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers. Through his involvement with ABCD, Ed has worked to help ensure that farm worker children have access to comprehensive educational, health and social services. Ed also serves on the Ontario County Cooperative Extension Board of Directors where his leadership skills help influence and guide extension programming to improve the lives of individuals and communities in the county.
Eric Hansen exhibits industry leadership through his involvement as a member of the Leafy Green Council and his service on the Ontario County Agriculture Economic Advisory Board, NYS Organic Advisory Board, and the Farm Bureau Young Farmers Board. He has actively participated in Farm Bureau lobbying efforts and participated in a NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets Trade Mission Trip to Canada in 2006. He helps guide industry research efforts through his participation in Cabbage Research and Development Program Board and improves industry understanding of food safety practices through his involvement with the Good Agricultural Practices Online Produce Safety Course Advisory Group. It is hard to imagine a farm company more committed to improving the industry through leadership and service.
Spirit of Achievement
Ed Hansen Farms Inc. should be chosen for the Grower Achievement Award because Ed and Eric are not only conscientious growers who actively support their industry to improve production, research, education, and public opinion, but they are, more importantly, really fine people who are always willing to be involved. I can easily cite several other researchers and extension educators who have worked with Ed Hansen Farms Inc., and every one of them would be able to tell you how accommodating and tolerant the farm personnel are of any project, even when it means committing personal and company time to making the project work. Several of these researchers provided information for this application because of the respect they have for this family and this company. In my own experience, both Ed and Eric have served as advisors on education and extension programs. Their participation is thoughtful and always results in the betterment of the programs. Neither Ed nor Eric is the type to seek out awards or look for public recognition of their contributions, but they have dedicated themselves and their farm to being progressive and active growers who give back to their industry, their state, their county, and their community. It sets a great standard for the produce industry and reflects the skills and mentality it takes to stay competitive in the market, all while being kind and easy with which to work. That is deserving of recognition and certainly an achievement.
Eubanks Produce, Inc.
Owners: Allen and Janice Eubanks
Nominated by Rick Snyder, Mississippi State University
Acres in Production: 1,600
Crops: watermelon, cantaloupe, peppers, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, strawberries, tomatoes, cabbage, and broccoli
Number of Employees: full time 187; part time 10
Eubanks Produce is a vegetable grower, packer, and shipper.
Consumer Oriented Marketing
This farm markets its produce to small retail outlets and large grocery retail outlets as well as managing a successful u-pick operation. U-pick is an area of exceptional success in a small, rural, community. The Eubanks promote Mississippi-grown produce with “Make Mine Mississippi” promotional materials including stickers on each carton. The farm has its own web site for marketing u-pick (Charliesupik.com). The farm also includes cut flowers in products available to consumers. Many chain stores in the Gulf states region carry strawberries from Eubanks Produce.
This team includes full-time drivers and company owned trucks for delivering product within a 350 mile radius of the farm. This enables the company to reach and service various channels for consumption of fresh produce. These include food service operators providing for the school systems, military commissaries, retail outlets, club stores, local farm stands, and wholesale distributors throughout the Gulf states region.
The farm uses a vacuum planter for precision seeding, and land-leveling to increase irrigation efficiency. The Eubanks also use auto steer technology for row-building and pesticide application. They custom blend all fertilizers to meet nutrient needs of crops. All crops are grown on black plastic with drip irrigation. The Eubanks regularly use soil testing and tissue analysis for precision fertilizer application. They implemented the use of cover crops to reduce wind-related sand-blasting of high value crops. Row covers are used for additional cold protection of tender crops. Harvested crops are quickly cooled in a large, forced air, cooling facility. Grading lines ensure quality product. In addition, the farm has used high tunnels for strawberry production. The family takes great care in packaging, using appropriate containers marked with farm name and logo along with the “Make Mine Mississippi” logo. At harvest, individual worker’s harvest records are recorded on ID cards and tallied electronically.
Food Quality and Safety
In 2004, the farm became the first grower in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama to receive food safety certification from the Mississippi Department of Agriculture & Commerce. The Eubanks have one employee whose main priority is food safety. They also are a member of the GAP program. Providing a safe supply chain is critical in today’s marketplace, and is something Eubanks takes very seriously. In order to continue to be at the forefront in the area of food safety, the company has invested in the necessary protocols to earn the prestigious Global GAP Certification. In May 2009, the company achieved this high distinction.
Allen is a member of the Land Bank South Board of Directors, a member of State Advisory Board of the USDA Farm Service Agency, and on the board of the Society of St. Andrews (food gleaning organization). Janice and Allen are both active members of their local church. Both are 4-H alumni and Janice is a 4-H volunteer. The industry has provided the family with many opportunities, so they strive to give back locally and nationally by being active members in national and regional Industry groups, including the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh, and the Southeast Produce Council (SEPC).
Spirit of Achievement
Allen graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in Agricultural Economics. Growing up, he and his dad grew soybeans, wheat, and cattle. At the age of 20, Allen saw a future in vegetable production and started Eubanks Produce. Since those early days, we have seen his farm grow from a small truck farm to an industry leader. Allen’s farm management skills are second to none. He is dedicated to the success of the family farm and has used the latest available technology to increase production and profitability.
Allen is a great example of a top-notch American farmer who started a produce business at an age when most college graduates were unsure of their direction. Since then, Eubanks Produce has grown into an enterprise that is depended upon by many small businesses. Allen and Janice have done an outstanding job of using innovative technology, hard work, and great management skills to produce a high quality product which is widely known in Mississippi and adjoining states. Eubanks Produce has been successfully servicing the Gulf Region for over 17 years, and as a result has developed a loyal customer base. So, while most farmers in our industry are currently downsizing and taking land out of vegetable production, Eubanks Produce has taken a different approach.
This past winter, the company began expanding from its current 1,600 acres of production in Mississippi and Alabama to include new production in Central Florida in the winter and spring seasons. The move to Florida was the next logical step for the company, as it strives to continue to service the Gulf Region with a grower they trust to provide a safe supply chain. The additional production extends the company’s growing timeframe to eight months of the year, with visions of becoming a year round producer in the future. The company’s vision is driven by innovation, sustainability, and serving its community in the Gulf region with produce for a long time to come. With a family full of energetic, young children excited to follow in their parents’ and grandparents’ shoes, we can expect to see the Eubanks family continue to be an active and giving member of the vegetable industry they are thankful to be a part of.
Ocean Mist Farms
Owners: Boutonnet, Bengard Pieri/Reasons, and Tottino families
Nominated by: John Inman
Acres in Production: 21,000
Crops: 25 vegetable crops are grown including artichokes, lettuce, cauliflower, leaf lettuce, cardoni, and rappini.
Number of Employees: 1,000 full or part time
Ocean Mist Farms is a major fresh vegetable grower and shipper located in Castroville, CA, in the Salinas Valley. The farm is a year-round grower shipper with other locations in California’ including Huron, Oxnard, and the Coachella Valley, and Yuma, AZ.
The company was started in 1924 by five local families and is still owned by four local families including two of the original founding families. The families are now in their third or fourth generation in the company. The company farms more than 21,000 acres and has more than 1000 employees in its own or affiliated operations.
Ocean Mist is the largest artichoke grower and shipper in North America and has a breeding program to develop its own proprietary varieties of artichokes. Objectives of the artichoke breeding program include varieties that will allow year-round production of artichokes and the development of artichokes that can be grown from seed. Traditionally, artichokes have been vegetatively propagated. Vegetatively propagated artichokes have more pest problems and are more expensive to produce than artichokes grown from seed. Thus, one of the objectives of the breeding program has been to make pest control easier.
The traditional problem with seeded artichokes has been the lack of eating quality and Ocean Mist’s new seeded varieties are equal to or better eating than vegatively propagated artichokes. The company also produces organically grown artichokes which would not be possible with vegetatively propagated artichokes.
Food Quality and Safety
Ocean Mist has been a leader in food safety. Field operations use Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) standards. Cooling and loading operations use Good Manufacturing Standards (GMP) and HACCP standards. Ocean Mist is a member of the California Leafy Greens Marketing agreement. Truck trailers are inspected before loading and must be precooled and clean, or they will not be loaded.
The company has had a traceback program in place for a number of years. The program can trace a box of Ocean Mist produce to the field it was grown, the day it was packed, the crew that packed the product, and the individual packer who packed the box.
Pest management is handled by Kleen Globe AgService, a leader in IPM practices. Pheromone trapping is used in artichoke production to monitor plume moth flights so that pesticide applications can be timed to be most effective. Sticky traps are used to monitor aphids, thrips, and leafminer populations in lettuce.
Fields are individually monitored by licensed Pest Control Advisors (PCAs) for insect and disease problems such as mildew, which is a constant problem in the Salinas Valley. Weekly meetings between the PCAs and growers foster good communication and provide for excellent coordination between pest management and growing practices.
Ocean Mist has been a leader in introducing new production practices. The farm introduced buried drip irrigation in artichoke production years ago and has been a leader in using drip irrigation in row crops vegetables such as lettuce, celery, and cauliflower. Drip irrigation substantially reduces water and fertilizer use and increases crop yields due to more uniform irrigation. Production fields are laser leveled annually.
Ocean Mist introduced field packing of artichokes using a field side packing machine that was developed by the company. Within four hours of packing, the artichokes are cooled to 34 degrees F.
The farm also has been a leader in labor management practices, providing health insurance for field workers and using H-2A workers in the winter period in Arizona.
Spirit of Achievement
Company staff is actively involved in industry activities. For example, Joe Pezzini was the Chairman of the Grower Shipper Association of Central California when the E. Coli problem showed up in bagged spinach. He spent a great deal of time being interviewed on both local and national TV news programs and provided a rational science-based explanation of what was going on.
He was active in the formation of the California Leafy Greens Handler Marketing Agreement that established safety standards for the production of leafy green vegetables and conducts inspections of growers fields and facilities. He currently serves as the elected chairman of its advisory board. Along with a number of other company employees, he is a graduate of the California Agricultural Leadership Program.
Ocean Mist also supports a variety of local activities including the Castroville Artichoke Festival and the California Rodeo in Salinas.
Belle Glade, FL
Owner: Toby Basore
Nominated by Bill Westrom
Acres in Production: 6,000+
Crops: lettuce, endive, escarole, parsley, cilantro, frisee, cabbage, radicchio, baby spinach, spring mix
Number of Employees: 100 full-time, 850 part-time
TKM Farms, the largest lettuce grower east of the Mississippi, is a family operation that has grown lettuce for three generations. The Basore brothers working the day-to-day operations of TKM Farms work hard to provide the best quality lettuce and leafy vegetables in the world. In the area of lettuce production you won’t find more diversity than at TKM Farms. The types and varieties of lettuce and spring mix as well as other crops grown on their farm are unprecedented. The produce industry is changing to meet the needs of the health conscious consumer. And TKM is there to meet that demand. In addition to iceberg and romaine, the rest of the 6,000-acre farm is growing baby spinach, spring mix, and arugula, as well as escarole endive, Boston, cabbage, parsley, and cilantro.
TKM Farms is one of the largest leafy vegetable growers in the eastern United States.
TKM Farms has the latest in handheld PDA technology to manage all aspects of the operation. From prebedding to planting to harvesting, all crews enter various information that is analyzed by the main office.
Food Quality Safety
Food quality and food safety are top priority on the farm. TKM Farm meets governmental and third party standards and strives to make this the cleanest and safest lettuce operation in the country.
Each crew uses handheld PDA technology with a variety of electronic checklists both in English and Spanish when entering fields and harvest.
Wash stations for workers have been upgraded to stainless steel, and in-field practices require gloves, aprons and hairnets. During iceberg harvest, the machinery, also made of stainless steel, ensures quality and cleanliness.
Coring of iceberg is done in the field to benefit of the customer. At the end of each day, the harvesting equipment goes through a thorough wash. Field rows are also watered down to prevent dust from settling on tender leaves.
TKM Farms in involved in a variety of local and national activities ranging from the Lions Club to the FFVA.
Spirit of Achievement
TKM is always looking for ways to streamline their operations while providing a consistently high quality product. They are very open-minded at trying new practices as well as innovative enough to develop new implements used in their operation.
To read an article describing TKM Farms’ updated processing operations, go to http://www.floridatrend.com/article.asp?aID=44726
Owners: President Bob Trax Sr.; Vice President John Trax; treasurer/secretary Tim Trax
Nominated by the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association
Acres in Production: 300
Crops: strawberries, sweet corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, plus fruit crops: apples, peaches, black raspberries, red raspberries, and blueberries
Number of Employees: 75 full-time; 50 part-time
Trax Farms was established by Lewis Trax in 1865 and has been operated by the Trax family for six generations. John, George, and Al Trax, all brothers, are the fourth generation of Trax’s to operate the farm. In 1957, they bought the current location and started the retail operation in the bottom of the barn. Prior to selling in the barn, the family was taking its produce to the terminal market in Pittsburgh, PA.
In 1964, they formed Trax Farms Inc. At this time the farm only sold produce, jams and jellies. In 1979, the family added on to the original barn to increase its selling space.
Bob and Patty Trax, Peggy Trax Coffield, Judy Trax Ross, Chuck Trax, Bryan and Beth Trax, and Ross Trax are the sixth generation to operate the farm. There are 15 family members working today and the seventh generation, which consists of 12 kids, is also working at the farm.
The family expanded the market in 1986. This expansion added a bakery, deli, larger “gourmet” grocery, gift shop, garden shop, and greenhouse. With the expansion, the family decided to keep the market open year-round.
As the economy grew and more children entered the business, Trax Farms expanded again in 2000. The Trax family added 40,000 square feet of Nexus greenhouses and 27,000 square feet of outdoor sales area. In this area, they have added four more cash registers and a customer service counter. The parking lot accommodates 400 cars. According to Bob Trax Sr., “We do everything we can to retail all of our crops. We try to keep our quality high.”
In addition to the market, Trax Farms offers pick-your-own strawberries and blueberries. On top of that, the farm runs numerous agritainment events including its St. Patrick’s Promo in March as well as an Easter breakfast and Easter Egg Hunt later in the spring, and in June the Strawberry Festival is scheduled. Trax Farms also hosts children’s birthday parties.
To get a jump on the competition in the area, the farm has opted to grow under plastic. In fact, 20 acres of sweet corn is started under plastic every year. Peppers and tomatoes are grown under plastic, and cucumbers and pickles are planted under black plastic.
The planter used for sweet corn is an idea the Trax family borrowed from a neighbor. The plastic is dispensed directly from the planter so the entire process is seamless, and more importantly, takes less time.
All of the farm’s fruits and vegetables are put through a washer before they go into the marketplace. The produce washer is in the market so it can be washed right before it is displayed in the market.
Bob Trax Sr. is a member of the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association for 20 years. He has been a past president in 1998 and 1999 and was vice president for a couple of years before that. He was nominated and received the Master Farmer award in 1997.
Bob also is a member of the marketing research board in Pennsylvania. He has been a member for 15 years. From his work on the board, he has learned many things about marketing. For example, he says numerous items are sold in open baskets. Vegetables, however, are kept in a cool case. The farm packs some items in “false” bins that are not nearly as deep as they look so they hold fewer products. This helps workers rotate products frequently.
The Trax family attends numerous grower meetings to learn about new varieties and production methods. In fact, Trax Farms has hosted twilight meetings on the farm for tomatoes, pumpkins, sweet corn, potatoes, and peaches.
Spirit Of Achievement
The farm has donated to local food banks for years. Bob Trax Sr.’s daughter-in-law Patty Trax (the produce manager) handles charitable contributions. She has received an award from Meals on Wheels Association of America. The farm donates food to the program a couple of times a week.