Sunday, August 28, 2011

Moving beyond the local produce craze

This article is my only published opinion article, but it was a great learning experience.

The Packer

You’re food savvy. So a friend asks you the best way to shop green at the supermarket. How do you answer?
Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is buying locally grown food. 
“Local” is the war cry of many environmentally conscious shoppers, farmers, bloggers and retailers. 
The trend reached mainstream status years ago. The 2007 Oxford American Dictionary word of the year was “locavore,” a term for people who eat locally grown food.
Late last year, even the world’s largest grocer got on board. Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart announced a plan to double its local produce in U.S. stores to 9% by 2016.
But the goals of eating local — improving the environment, community nutrition, and access to healthy food for the poor — can be masked or undermined by what researcher David Cleveland calls the “local trap.”
Cleveland, an environmental studies professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara, studied this question in one of the most appropriate places on earth.
In terms of agricultural value, Santa Barbara County ranks in the top 1% of all U.S. counties.
In 2009, 82% of that agricultural value was from produce. 
Yet 99.6% of the produce is exported out of the county. Nearly 97% of produce eaten there is imported.
The county’s produce was worth $900 million in 2008, including more than $300 million in strawberries, nearly $160 million of broccoli and $110 million of lettuce, according to the county’s agricultural commissioner’s office, which the study cited.
What better place to see how localization could affect a community and the environment?
Cleveland and six of his students did, with surprising results.
His study, published April in Environmental Science & Technology, found that if Santa Barbara County supplied all its own produce before exporting the then-remaining 89%, it wouldn’t significantly help the environment or the county’s nutrition — the two main goals of eating local.
It found that the agrifood system would shed less than 1% of its greenhouse gas emissions, and it wouldn’t necessarily affect the county’s nutrition.
From this study and others, there’s increasing evidence that local should not be a final goal. Instead, it should serve as one tool in a toolkit.
“Local may be necessary to reach some of the goals for improving our agrifood system, but by itself it is not sufficient,” Cleveland told The Packer, so we should be asking questions and doing research “to make sure that our localization efforts really accomplish what we expect them to.”
For example, the study says 100% localization could greatly improve the county’s nutrition — with nearly 40% of residents there classified as food-insecure, and with three times as many fast food and convenience joints than supermarkets and produce vendors — but won’t help yet because there are too many other economic, geographic or cultural obstacles in the way.
Solving problems
If those obstacles hurt a county in produce heaven, imagine the difficulty for counties in Utah or Kentucky.
Instead of chanting “local,” progressives should find a way to defeat those more pressing obstacles first. 
But that’s not an easy sell.
A Huffington Post article on the study elicited 790 comments. Most were from green-minded people, and most were mad. They blasted a study that undermined the one-dimensional way they viewed big food companies.
Reading the comments there, you’d think Cleveland was a stooge for big ag. 
It’s ironic because his research suggests producers and retailers too must go beyond local produce to seriously address the more fundamental goals of improving the food system.
In his own Huffington Post column later, and in comments to The Packer, Cleveland suggested major food system changes like the strengthening of local food distribution hubs. 
He also thinks corporations should provide information to prove their local food claims.
Cleveland questions the “localness” of retailers that ship earnings back to headquarters instead of investing locally, or if the producers use non-locals to harvest. Eating local in America can hurt communities in Mexico. Both sides will find fault with Cleveland’s study. 
But what about your green friend? What advice will you give?
To maximize the greenhouse gas emissions you cut, watch what you eat more than where it came from.
More than four-fifths of food-related greenhouse gas emissions come from producing the food, not transporting it, according to another study from Environmental Science & Technologypublished in 2008 by two researchers from Carnegie Mellon University.
The study found that the final delivery of food — the distance from producer to retailer, or how most people define “eating local” — is responsible for 4% of the system’s greenhouse emissions.
Eating chicken or produce instead of red meat or dairy for just one day a week, the study said, would reduce more greenhouse emissions than buying 100% local all week long.
Maybe your friend could use that advice.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Legends of Produce: Arnold Caviar

The Packer

When Arnold Caviar bought Liberty Fruit Co. Inc. from his family 30 years ago, it came with just three straight trucks for hauling and a pickup truck.

His three children each got their name on one of the straight trucks.

“Are those different drivers?” someone asked him.

“Well, in some ways, they are,” he said.

Fast-forward 30 years, and not much has changed. Allison, 34, is a secretary. Cory, 39, is the IT director. Allen, 41, is president.

Caviar, 70, is proud his children joined him.

Other things did change. The company is now a $100 million-a-year Midwest produce giant, distributing to a nine-state area from Kansas City, Kan.

As the company grew, Caviar named more things after people he loves. Diversifying against the ups and downs of produce sales, he began a repacking brand, Mary’s Pride, named after his mother. He developed another branch, which does value-added produce and custom packaging. It’s called Carol’s Cuts, named after his wife.

“I had to do something so she wouldn’t get jealous of other companies with things named after their wives,” Caviar said.

For 15 or 16 hours, six or seven days a week, Caviar would do it all. He’d unload trucks, or clean the dock at 2 a.m. Carol pitched in a few days weekly while she was watching their children and helped out more when the kids grew older.

“You’ve got to work for what you get,” Caviar said. “I feel like I’ve put in my dues.”

That base of honest work remains with the company. Caviar demands integrity, chief operating officer Scott Danner said.

“He won’t put up with liars,” Danner said. “If you lie, you’re out.”

“I’ve worked for corporations,” Danner said, “and there you did anything you could to get to the goal. Arnold has instilled that we want to get to the goal, but we’re getting there the right way.”

Caviar backs up his words with dollars. He and the company give regularly to charities, such as Operation Breakthrough, Little Sisters of the Poor and especially Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Liberty Fruit has hosted a charity golf tournament for 12 years, with most funds given to the hospital. It’s earned a million dollars for Children’s Mercy.

Perhaps Caviar’s greatest accomplishment? Turning the family business into a business family of 300.

If you ask Caviar why, when other Midwest produce companies have failed and he — a thousand miles away from produce-growing coasts — has succeeded, he credits his workers.

“It’s not the Caviar business,” he said, “It’s the company business. People know the way I think. It’s everyone, from the highest manager all the way down.”

From two bonuses a year to an annual picnic at the company, Caviar said he treats his employees the way he wants to be treated, and they do the same thing back.

“It’s dedication, it’s love, it’s taking care of your employees,” Caviar said. “We do that. All the employees know that.”

But it’s a two-way street. If the company gets jammed with work, the employees are willing to put in 14 hours a day to take care of it. They say they’ll put in the hours anytime its needed for Caviar.

“Do they want to go home to their families? Absolutely,” he said. “But if you get in a bind, they’ll take care of you.”

“Eight years ago,” Caviar said, “I made one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in hiring Scott Danner.”

When Caviar hired Danner, he wanted to start stepping back from the company, bit by bit. Now that he’s 70, he wants to step back more, but it’s not easy.

“You can’t step back totally,” he said, “especially when you’ve worked that hard.”

The company still has his business strategy to build around. It’s not difficult to remember.

“Our whole thing is service, number one. Quality, number two. And price, number three,” he said. “We’re big on quality. It’s proven to be the right decision throughout the years.”

And spending money to make money?

“I’m all about that,” he said.

Liberty Fruit spent money to buy an old produce warehouse in 1994, where it now sits, and then spent more money to refurbish it. Then in 2007, it added a 9,000-square-foot processing plant expansion, which made it 13,000 square feet. In 2009, a 30,000-square-foot repacking and storage expansion paved the way for the company to grow to 162,000 square feet.

And, thanks to being a family business, decisions are quick.

“The big expansion was basically an hour’s discussion between Arnold, his son Allen and me,” Danner said.

The company isn’t sinking into complacency, however. Caviar and Danner mention the possibility of a second 30,000-square-foot expansion.

And then there’s Caviar’s granddaughter, 9-year-old Morgan, to name something after.

He suggests “Morgan’s Munchies.”

Legends of Produce: Ken Martin

The Packer

He could have been a dairy farmer, or a mortician. In the end, he decided to grow citrus.

Ken Martin, who ran Rio Queen Citrus Inc. for decades, grew up on his parents’ small dairy farm in southwest Missouri. His brother still owns the farm.

Martin went to Southwest Baptist College, then later to Dallas Mortuary College. He became a funeral director and mortician in Fulton, Mo., where he met Sue Ware, the woman who would become his wife.

Sue’s father, Jim Ware, owned acres of citrus around Mission, Texas. He sent his daughter and Ken to the Rio Grande Valley on a six-month trial basis, to see if they liked it.

On April 1, 1970, as thermometers topped out at 100 degrees, the couple rolled into McAllen, Texas.

Martin managed the groves, drove the tractors, irrigated the soil, and did everything else. He also took night classes at the Texas A&I Citrus Center in Weslaco.

“He was a jack-of-all-trades in the early years of the company,” said Ken’s son, Mike, who is now the company president.

That first season yielded 17 loads of citrus. The company, then known as WareHouse Farms, was on its way.

The company grew bit by bit. It bought more acreage for citrus. Later, it diversified, offering grove care services. Then, in 1998, it acquired Elmore & Stahl, adding onions and melons to the mix. In 2000, it bought a citrus packing facility when the company acquired Interstate Fruit & Vegetable.

The produce industry, like any industry, faces constant change, Mike Martin said. Things aren’t the way they used to be when his father was new to the business. But some things never change.

“It still comes down to relationships. It comes down to doing what you say you’re going to do,” Mike Martin said. “It’s about your word, your integrity. That’s a big part of success.”

Kenneth Fox, whose Fox Packaging Supply has worked with Rio Queen Citrus for decades, said Martin could always “get the banks to go with him” because they could trust him. Martin has a sixth sense for business opportunities, Fox said, and he was a good listener, a sponge that absorbed information.

“He’s always been that way,” Fox said. “He absolutely never forgets. He’s a very smart businessman.”

Those talents led Martin to participate in multiple committees. He served on boards for the citrus center in Weslaco, Texas Citrus Mutual, TexaSweet, and the Texas Valley Citrus Committee. He was chairman of the Texas Produce Association in 1982 and 1983.

While Rio Queen Citrus has grown into a corporate structure with divisions and multiple commodities and growing areas, it still has the Martin family heart.

“They’re family-owned, and they came up the hard way,” Fox said.

That leads to the company making decisions quickly. Although he often works with the huge produce retailers with chain stores, Fox likes dealing with the Martins.

“He’s the kind of customer you want,” he said. “They live their business, so they know what’s going on. They’re pretty much always right on.”

Rio Queen Citrus executives don’t need to call a board meeting to make important decisions, Mike Martin said. When he started taking over the reins from his father, it was a slow transition.

“These days, he steps aside when things are rolling along,” Mike said at Ken’s induction into the Texas Produce Hall of Fame. “But I think he is really preparing for the next new season.”

Legends of Produce: R.T. Stanley Jr.

The Packer

After working on his father’s farm, R.T. Stanley Jr. went off to college to pursue a job outside of agriculture.

“I was going to be a big businessman when I went off to college,” he said. “I didn’t realize farming was in my blood.”

Now, as someone who’s been named Georgia Farmer of the Year and served as the Vidalia Onion Committee’s chairman for a decade, the committee’s Grower of the Year, and a Georgia Farm Bureau county president, Stanley is both a big businessman and a farmer.

It started small, when Stanley quit college in 1964 to start sharecropping with his uncle.

He had married and was looking to start a family, and his father’s farm was too small to support a new family, so sharecropping was his only option.

He did that for four years, then made a down payment on his own 120 acres.

In 1974, his father approached him and offered to merge their operations so they could buy larger equipment together. They also invested in land together, 50/50, and mainly grew tobacco.

A year later, they made a fateful decision to experiment with 5 acres of Vidalia, Ga., onions — the same Vidalia onions that now enjoy international acclaim and a federal marketing order, thanks in large part to Stanley’s efforts with former U.S. Rep. Lindsay Thomas.

When Stanley’s first son graduated from the University of Georgia, he asked about joining the farm. Stanley made him an equal partner in his half of the business. His second son graduated from Georgia and did the same thing. The third son graduated from the same university, worked as a manager of a pine tree seed plant for more than a year, and then he joined his father and brothers.

“We started growing more onions, more tobacco, everything — peanuts, cotton, corn, soybeans — trying to diversify. Anything to survive on the farm,” Stanley said. “As those boys kept coming back from college, we didn’t have a choice but to get bigger.”

The youngest son’s return prompted an even bigger expansion. The company bought a nearby company called Manning Farms that processed onions and made relishes and dressings.

The processing plant helped steady the company when the weather hurt crops, Stanley said.

The company, Stanley Farms, since has put its revenue back into the operation, buying equipment or adding 100 acres here and there. After starting out with little more than 100 acres in 1968, the company now stands at 8,000 acres. And two years ago, the company added a processing and individual quick-freeze plant.

Stanley says diversification is necessary to survive long on the farm.

Despite its growth, the company had a rough year in 1980 because of crop and outside political issues, and they almost lost it all, Stanley said.

It made them appreciate the good years and their diversification, he said.

Stanley and his three sons are equal partners in the company, splitting everything four ways. They make the decisions the same way too. They take a vote. If it’s a 2-2 tie, then Stanley’s wife, Diane, breaks the tie. She’s done it two or three times.

“When someone’s outvoted, he joins right in,” Stanley said. “That’s how we make this family operation work. If we have a bad year, we suffer together. If we have a good year, we celebrate together.”

Stanley is an outgoing, generous and good man, said Sabrina Jarriel, office manager for Stanley Farms.

“He’s the main one that everyone goes to when they need support and guidance,” Jarriel said. “He’s all about helping everybody any way he can. Just an all-around good person. A good ol’ boy.”

Things are going well at Stanley Farms.

More than any other word, Stanley uses “blessed.” And throughout his company’s history, he’s met blessings with more faith and investment. And the company doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Legends of Produce: Jerome Bushman

It can be hard to distinguish yourself when your last name is synonymous with Wisconsin potatoes, when you are the third generation inducted into the Wisconsin Potato Industry Hall of Fame, when your son is chairman of the board of the $100 million-a-year family business.

But that’s not the case for Jerome “Jerry” Bushman. He founded Bushmans’ Inc. in 1974 with an innovative idea, one that started the company down a Wisconsin potato giant’s path.

He wanted to defeat the calendar.

His son, Mitchell, chairman of Bushmans’ Inc., said that Wisconsin potato farmers harvested from August to May, and took summers off.

But potatoes for eight months a year created problems in keeping customers over the other four. Mitchell said his father recognized the importance of continuity with customers.

“He said the two hardest things to do were to start selling the new crop and finish selling the old crop,” Mitchell said. “It’s true.”

He said his father was the first pioneer in the area to see where things had to go. The company has kept the tradition, expanding its growing base to every major growing region in the U.S. and Canada.

Mike Carter, chief executive officer of Bushmans’ Inc., said the Bushman family has dealt in potatoes for 100 years.

Bushman rode the potato railcars between Galloway and Rosholt, Wis. – the headquarters of Bushmans’ Inc. today – and worked for his father on the family farm.

“It sounds like a Norman Rockwell painting,” Carter said.

That painting got bigger as Bushman started his own company and his family grew. He and his wife, Barbara, had two sons, Derrick and Mitchell, and a daughter named Tia.

Along with the growing family, he enjoyed his work. In second grade, Mitchell’s class did a report on parents. They asked what their parents enjoyed doing.

”Most parents said ‘bowling, fishing, that kind of thing,” Mitchell said. “He said, ‘Going to work.’”

Bushman started J&B Marketing when he started Bushmans’ Inc. Later in the 1970s, Bushman created Potato World Inc. and A&W Farms with partner Darrell Koehler. A&W Farms eventually grew 10,000 acres of potatoes, peas, beans and sweet corn until Bushman sold his interest in it in 1999.

Carter said that Bushman created a family culture that remains with the company today.

Now, Derrick and Mitchell are the principle owners of Bushmans’ Inc. and Tia works for other family businesses. The Rockwell painting reached maturity.

But it isn’t forced. Mitchell said Jerry never pressured him into being the fourth generation working for the family business.

“His philosophy was that it’s here for you,” he said, “but take the path you want because that’s where you’ll be successful.”

So Mitchell started his own company as a sophomore in college, following his first passion: helicopters. And it was Jerry’s co-signature that let Mitchell buy his first helicopter.

He did it for nine years before returning to the family business. Now he’s chairman of the board for Bushmans’ Inc.

“I call him the biggest cheerleader the potato industry will ever have,” Mitchell said about Jerry.

If there are potatoes in a grocery store anywhere near Bushman, you can find him handing out potatoes and $5 bills to the first 50 elderly women he sees, Mitchell said. He’ll explain how they’re grown and harvested.

“My children won’t even go to the store with him anymore,” Mitchell said. “He’ll be selling those potatoes.”

That outgoing nature served well with clients too. The produce world is now “very corporate, very structured,” Mitchell said, and people don’t interact the way his father does.

”His relationships with customers were more than work-related,” he said. “They got to be friends.”

His personality naturally led to his involvement in regional and national committees.

Bushman served on the board of directors of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association for 12 years, most recently from 1999 to 2005. He also spent several years on its marketing committee.

He also served two terms for the U.S. Potato Board and a combined 12 years for the United Fresh Produce Association, six years for the brokers division and six for the growers division.

Bushman has stepped back from the reins of his company, as much as that’s possible for a lifelong potato cheerleader. Call it semi-retired.

“He still plays a huge role in strategy. We continue to look to him for guidance,” Carter said. “He’s seen it all.”

Even if he misses a few days at the office, his presence is still felt.

“He likes to say that he stirs the pot,” Carter said, “and it takes five days to settle down.”

Legends of Produce: Ted Campbell

The Packer

Just try to put a label on Ted Campbell. You can’t.

Can you call him a retail industry legend?

Sure. He’s worked in important jobs for some of the world’s largest retailers. He worked for Associated Wholesale Grocers. He’s been corporate director of produce for Supervalu. He was vice president of sales and marketing for Kerry’s Bromeliad Nursery. He was chairman of the Produce Marketing Association’s board of directors in 2000.

Throughout his career in retail, he has had to nudge others to take leaps of faith. Leaps he had already made.

Recognizing the markets for international produce and yearlong availability, Campbell helped take produce departments from 200 items to 700. And when he worked for Supervalu, he went to Chile to help its growers.

He remembers the farmers there saying, “the more I produce, the better,” but Campbell taught them that if they produced less, they would create bigger fruit, and they would make more money.

He also liked the new club store format he was helping to build.

The theory instead was having the best quality. Campbell said you buy quality items, sell them at break-even prices, and make profit off of the subscriptions. Make sure a high percentage — maybe 40% — of the inventory is in-and-out stuff, not regular items, making every trip to the store a treasure hunt. That built loyalty in customers and drove even more subscriptions.

Campbell received a wide range of experience from the retail world, but don’t assume that’s his only area of expertise.

“Most of my training is from the retail side of the business,” Campbell said, “But I’m a hybrid.”

He is the executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. And he defends the Florida strawberry industry like a bulldog.

When ABC News ran a story about how strawberry growers in the state were trashing millions of perfectly good strawberries after the prices in the market crashed, Campbell wrote a letter setting the record straight.

The story had explained that berries were so oversupplied farmers couldn’t make any money selling them, so they left them in the fields. The network pointed out that homeless people could use the wasted fruit but didn’t offer a way for the already-cash-strapped farmers to somehow transport them for free.

Campbell went to bat for the farmers.

“Our guys are very busy. They’re in the field, with a short season,” he said. “They didn’t have time to write a letter. They didn’t even have time to see the story. That’s my job.”

So he wrote. He called the ABC News story “an insult” to every American food grower. He said it vilified the Florida strawberry growers “at a time when they themselves are ensuring record losses.”

Campbell’s letter wondered why the story didn’t mention the other times and places farmers couldn’t harvest their crops, or the many growers who opened their fields to locals and charities, despite the risk of damaging other crops or being sued for an accident.

Campbell also submits public comments to the government on behalf of his organization, such as about PACA trust issues. He has been president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

You can put a label on Campbell, retailer or bulldog for growers or governing leader, but none of them fully fit. He’s a man who keeps learning and growing.

“You learn through every channel,” he said, “and apply what you’ve learned in every other channel.”

Legends of Produce: George Boskovich Jr.

After two years in the Army, George Boskovich Jr. was hesitant to join the family farm.

“It didn’t seem like there was enough going on, where they needed my services or could challenge me,” he said.

“Well, I was wrong.”

He now represents the third generation of Boskovich Farms Inc., but when he came on board in the late 1960s, Boskovich Farms was just beginning to expand.

The company leased refrigerated space from a celery shipper in Salinas, Calif., and they sent a load of green onions there with a retired salesman. The next morning, George Jr. called the salesman, who said he had sold them all.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “What snapped in my mind was it’s not the product, it’s the convenience.”

The company diversified, moving into more affordable or geographically convenient places, and expanded from one commodity to dozens. It now exports to several countries in Europe.

“They have a tremendous reputation as the green onion king, going back maybe 80 years or more,” said Rob Roy, president and general counsel of the Ventura County Agricultural Association.

As the company strove for convenience and diversity, it came across a unique way of cooling its produce.

“We were green before it was cool,” Boskovich said.

When the company moved into its current day headquarters in Oxnard, Calif., it bought and remodeled a defunct freezer facility. And it made a deal with a neighboring coal generation company. The Boskoviches used the company’s steam from burning natural gas to power their refrigeration. The company now makes 170 tons of ice a day and sells it.

The company also expanded into processing its food and now supplies major foodservice companies. It even expanded beyond mixed vegetables to sell strawberries and other commodities.

The company’s diversification has helped make it a local industry leader in regards to year-round supplies and all the different services it offers, said Roy, who has known Boskovich for more than 30 years.

Boskovich said his grandfather was an immigrant from Croatia, and his traits are still with the company today, such as how tight-knit the company leadership is.

“We don’t make a move until we are in total agreement,” he said. “There’s no all-stars here.”

That family setting persists today, and it’s bolstered by Boskovich’s presence.

“George is just one of those rare personalities,” Roy said. “He’s the kind of guy to give you the shirt off his back. He’s a wonderful person. His stature in the industry is a big strength for them.”

But Boskovich, true to his no-all-stars words, has even bigger expectations for those who follow him.

“Now the fourth generation has joined in,” he said. “Every generation is going to bring something and add to it.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Texas Produce Association Hall of Famer dies

The Packer

Roy Schapira, owner of Valley Onions and an inductee into the Texas Produce Association Hall of Fame, died July 26.

He was born May 13, 1913, in Chicago, and died peacefully in San Antonio, Texas, according to Porter Loring Mortuary.

Before he started working in the fields, Schapira had jobs panning for gold and working in the garment district of New York. He also served on boards and advisory boards for Texas banks.

He lived with his wife, Ruth, in McAllen, Texas, for more than 50 years. He was an avid fisherman and storyteller.

He leaves behind his wife of 72 years, Ruth Susser Schapira; daughter Janet Westheimer and her husband Joe; son Jay Schapira and his wife Phyllis; grandchildren Michael, Julie and Jeffrey Westheimer, and Beth, Jamie, Gwen and Leslie Schapira; eight great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, the family directs contributions to The Barshop Jewish Community Center, 12500 NW Military Hwy., San Antonio, TX, 78231, attn: Tribute/GM Women’s Auxiliary Fund; The Jay N. Schapira MD Medical Research Foundation, Cedars Sinai Medical Office Towers, Suite 750W, 8635 West Third St., Los Angeles, CA, 90048; or the charity of the giver’s choice.

There will be a graveside service on July 28 at Beth El Memorial Park, 1715 Austin Highway, at 10 a.m., with Rabbi Barry H.D. Block, Rabbi Ari Plost and Cantor Julie Berlin officiating.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Former PMA director dies

The Packer

Jerry Taylor, a former director of the Produce Marketing Association, died July 12 from cancer.

He was PMA director from 1979 to 1982, and he worked on packaging innovation throughout his career. He helped introduce the clear concept in produce packaging while a vice president for A&E Plastics Inc., Elgin, Ill.

Taylor’s early career was in produce. He worked for Roger Brothers Seed Co., Idaho Falls, Idaho, from 1969 to 1972. In 1972, he began working at Cal Fruit, La Mirada, Calif., until 1980.

In July 1980, he founded Creative Agricultural Packaging Inc., Hayden, Idaho, which introduced the design and marketing of the first preopened, recloseable vented bags for grapes, cherries and other produce.

Survivors include his wife of 58 years, Helen, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; daughter Kathy Moore, Hayden, Idaho; daughter Kelly Butkovich, Houghton Lake, Mich.; 7 grandchildren, stepbrother Charley Zavisch, Portland, Ore., and his mother and stepfather, Josephine and Charles Zavisch of Sun City, Calif.

Friday, July 15, 2011

USDA supports local ‘food hubs’ nationwide

The Packer

Call it Craigslist, farmer style.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture launched an online resource to support the nationwide development of food hubs — resources to help small and mid-sized producers work together to gain access to larger buyers and more business.

It centers around two popular trends: locally produced food, and eating food from small farms. Food hubs help producers, buyers and transporters find each other in a region, and several small businesses working together can tap into larger opportunities they can’t earn alone.

Jim Barham, agricultural economist for the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, used the example of a hospital.

Hospitals need a large supply of food, regularly. It is the kind of customer that usually can only afford to deal with large, corporate suppliers. It can’t afford to send people to inspect and buy carrots from one farm and apples at another, Barham said.

Enter the food hub. If the local carrot grower and apple grower have already made produce available at a hub, and the hub has some truck companies on board, they can guarantee customers a large, regular supply of food with variety. They can start selling to larger customers like hospitals, Barham said.

Barham said food hubs need not not exclude large companies. In fact, he said, they can help where smaller suppliers cannot.

“Food hubs are geared to support local growers, but not exclusively,” he said. “They often use larger producers as a stopgap to ensure that they will always have the volume to meet buyers’ needs.”

The process can have appeal for the larger produce buyers too.

“Produce buyers are elated to work with regional food hubs,” Barham said. “It gives them access to product that they’re having difficulty getting from regular distributors.”

Barham said Sysco, Houston, works with some food hubs across the nation as aggregation hubs. It doesn’t need to do the on-farm pickups from smaller growers when they already have their produce pooled together.

The online resource is provided by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, as part of its food hub partnership with the Wallace Center at Winrock International, National Good Food Network, National Association of Produce Market Managers and Project for Public Spaces. It’s also tied into the USDA’s wider efforts with its local-driven Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign.

The resource site hosts information from USDA agencies and other research organizations, and a directory of identified food hubs and financial resources. Beyond buyers and sellers, the website has potential use for entrepreneurs, advocates, researchers, media and even policymakers. As the department expands its understanding of the food hub business model, the website’s contents will evolve.

Barham said the AMS is preparing a more comprehensive resource guide for food hubs, to be released later this year. That guide will feature more non-government resources and research, provided by research institutions and the other food hub partner associations.

It will also offer advice for new food hubs, like what is working well for other hubs and what isn’t. Barham said he is inundated by people asking about food hubs — their startup costs, the warehouse space, the leasing space, what insurance is needed, or what food safety protocol they should expect from producers.

Barham said he expected that wider resource to be on the USDA secretary’s desk by September or early October.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Purfresh introduces industry-first free solar monitoring

The Packer

Imagine a service that will text message or e-mail a grower when his crops are in danger — for free.

Stress from the sun can take away half of a crop’s yield, according to Purfresh, which has introduced the Plant Performance Almanac. The solar stress monitor is available free on the Internet.

The program will even shoot you a message, specific to location, if bad conditions are headed your way.

“Our product is a dashboard that gives you insight into one of the biggest factors of crop quality and yield,” said Dave Cope, CEO of the Fremont, Calif., company.

The almanac tracks global conditions such as temperature, radiant heat and ultraviolet stress indexes. Users have access to historical, current and forecasted information. And location-specific messages can remind a grower to apply preventative protection.

Purfresh can help there, too. In 2008, Time magazine called Purfresh's spray sunscreen for plants, Purshade, one of the 50 best inventions of the year.

But solar stress isn’t the only thing in the company’s crosshairs.

“Soil type, slope direction, wind, rain, all of that stuff — it’s easy to imagine how all of those interplay,” Cope said. “What we have is a simple, very powerful application. But going forward, you’ll see us adding layers to that.”

The company may enrich the application for paying subscribers but plans to keep the currently offered services free, Cope said.

He added that the company understands agriculture and has a good relationship with growers, expertise with software, and one of the world’s leading experts in climatology, Eric Wood of Princeton University, as head of the company’s scientific advisory board.

Go to for more information.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Government rolls out food safety campaign with wacky commercials

The Packer

A man sits on his couch, his face glistening with sweat. On the couch, to his left, a live lobster sits.

The man hits a button on a remote control, and nearly 10 fans of different types — desk fans, oscillating fans, a ceiling fan, even a box fan — turn on and blast the couch with cool air.

The man sets down the remote and picks up a glass of iced tea. As he looks over at the lobster, the all-caps word “CHILL” appears overhead in white.

It’s a commercial. The screen goes light blue, but CHILL is still there with the rest of its sentence: “CHILL RAW AND PREPARED FOODS PROMPTLY.”

The last screen shows the logos of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and the Ad Council.

It’s one of the four public service advertisements the agencies created to promote food safety awareness. The commercials’ respective messages are chill, clean, separate, and cook.

The information is conventional: The ads promote the prompt chilling of raw and prepared foods, cleaning knives and surfaces when dealing with raw food, separating raw meat from produce and using separate cutting boards, and reaching proper heat levels and the use of thermometers for cooking raw food.

The advertisements are anything but conventional.

“They’re kind of crazy, but it certainly makes people sit up and take notice,” said Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications for United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.

Gilmer was on a panel representing the food industry that discussed the advertisements with the agencies.

He said the theme of the talks was compromise.

“I think the experts wanted a fairly literal message, about exactly what consumers were supposed to do,” he said. The agencies “took that in mind, but they also didn’t want to make a boring commercial.”

In the commercial focusing on cross contamination, a woman stands in a living room between two chairs in opposing corners. Her arms are crossed as she polices the room. A live chicken stands on one chair, and a bunch of carrots is in the other.

As the chicken jumps down to the floor, the woman sternly points it back to its chair.

“It’s more memorable than showing a chef separating meats and veggies on a kitchen counter,” Gilmer said. “There was a balance between literal education and making it a memorable, creative campaign.”

While all the commercials feature a goofy and playful portrayal of the safety guidelines, they end with a simple sentence taking over the screen for a few seconds, getting to the serious advice at hand.

Gilmer noted the guidelines deal more with meat safety and less with produce. Regarding whether the ads were too goofy, he said he couldn’t speak for the fresh produce industry as a whole, but “anything that gets in front of consumers and reminds them” about ways to keep food safer is good.

He also likes that the ads focused on the consumer, because the majority of food contamination occurs in the home.

The ads are available on the USDA Food Safety YouTube channel.