Wholesum Harvest, a company that focuses exclusively on growing organic produce, has ventured into the berry business. Wholesum Berries, the name of the joint venture, is owned by Wholesum Family Farms as well as organic berry growers across the Americas. The group began the new partnership after being approached by berry growers keen to work with a solely organic grower.
"We were approached by organic berry growers back in 2016," said Jessie Gunn of Wholesum Harvest. "They were looking for a dedicated organic grower to work with, and seeing our brand and what we stand for, they were interested in forming a partnership. Our reputation has been built on our success of growing vegetables organically for over 25 years. Therefore we formed the partnership with those growers and created Wholesum Berries."
Fair trade push a major incentive
While Wholesum Harvest is proud to be an organic-only grower, they are not content to rest on this. The company said they value more than just growing produce organically. They want to spread that philosophy to the greater periphery of growing produce. Fair, equitable work practices, community development and sustainability are all areas where the company wants to pursue the highest standards. Therefore, the push for Fair Trade practice and certification is a natural step for them.
Jessie Gunn (right) with Wholesum's Tina Federico and Ricardo D. Crisantes
"One of our highest values involves the fair and equitable treatment of workers," Gunn said. "It forms the core of our business, along with ensuring communities are looked after as well as the environment. One of the requirements for potential partner growers is that they need to grow organic, but also they must be family-owned and have a commitment to better the lives of their fellow community members."
When many people think of Fair Trade, coffee and cocoa production in places such as Central and South America come to mind. Gunn observed that people don't think of countries like the United States when it comes to Fair Trade certification. And yet, this is what Wholesum Harvest pursued several years ago. "We were actually the first non-coffee or cocoa based agricultural entity to apply for and be awarded Fair Trade Certification in the United States," she said. "Since then, we have become a strong partner and 'test case' for further work on Fair Trade for fresh produce farms."
"There are still instances of grievances in labor equitability in the United States," she added. "Our mission and values are aligned and as a result, we have helped develop a global standard for agricultural Fair Trade. This is now of greater focus as we move into the berry growing business."
Strawberries and blueberries already available
Wholesum Berries haven't wasted any time in getting product out to the market, with the first organic berries already available in stores. They have started with organic strawberries and blueberries, which are available all year round, and they are looking to expand to broader availability of other berries in the near future.
"We began berry shipments on January 1st," Gunn explained. "Organic strawberries and blueberries are now available all year round. In the next 18 months, the plan is year-round availability for our organic raspberries and blackberries. There is even talk of cranberries in the future."
In terms of Fair Trade berries, at the moment the company are building up their availability, again with the intention of ramping up and having a significantly expanded offering within 2 years. "Right now, we have about 8 weeks availability of organic, Fair Trade blueberries. There is a plan in place to expand this to 6 - 8 months of annual availability within the next 24 months."
Sustainability out of the boardroom and into the field
It's certainly one thing to discuss being sustainable and quite another to put it into practice. In this regard, Wholesum Harvest have worked hard to ensure that all areas of the business follow their stated principles. Gunn said they have devoted a significant amount of resources for things like packaging, field practices and taking into account the environment.
"Wholesum is known for its organic integrity," she said. "We ensure that level of integrity with onsite QA, who monitor compliance in terms of organic farming practices, environmental stewardship and the welfare of the surrounding communities. Our growers are fantastic partners in this, having already been following high standards."
"About 30% of our marketing resources are devoted to packaging," Gunn continued. "Berries are one of the more challenging products in terms of sustainable packaging. We use only recyclable plastics and we aim to source from sustainably managed forests. This is an area we are continually looking to innovate in. It is certainly encouraging to see other regions and large scale companies turning their attention to this also."
Pushing the food industry
With their berry business underway, the company is looking to continue promoting their vision on the food industry. They feel honored to work with organic berry growers who already follow this vision and hope to continue their expansion.
"One of the reasons Wholesum got into berries is because we saw an opportunity to make sure we continue to push the food industry," Gunn explained. "This not only includes sustainable practices, but also flavor of the produce, building communities, as well as the fair treatment of workers. We are proud to be a company that is great to work for and pays workers a fair wage. We are also proud and honored to be working alongside organic berry growers that have the same vision."
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