There’s a certain sense of accomplishment in being one of the first supporters of a goal you strongly believe in, an original backer, if you will. For Sunripe Certified Brands’ Chief Executive Officer and Operating Partner, Jon Esformes, this proud moment is reflected in its sustainable approach to its growing practices, and attendees will get to learn all about this and more at this year’s Southeast Produce Council’s (SEPC) Southern Innovations.
“We have been in business for over 100 years, and we’ve been involved with the Southeast Produce Council since its very first show and every instance since then as a longstanding member,” Jon tells me. “This year, we’re excited to showcase the depth of our tomato offerings and get into the conversation with showgoers on how Sunripe is keeping flavor and sustainability at the forefront.”Jon Esformes – Chief Executive Officer and Operating Partner, Sunripe Certified Brands
Following the sun and leading in quality, Sunripe produces field-grown Round, Roma, and snacking tomatoes of different varieties in the Southeast 12 months of the year within a 12-hour car ride from its southernmost farm to its northernmost in Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. The grower also has production in Mexico during the winter season to bring a robust and year-round portfolio for its partners, which consists of 30 percent retail, 30 percent wholesale, and 40 percent foodservice.
Consistency is key, and Sunripe places much of this success on its sustainability practices, a method it perfects to bring out the best in both its crops and workers.
“Farming by its very definition is sustainable. We have always been very involved in Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and we manage our use of inputs very closely to minimize not just our costs but also what we need to put in the ground,” continues Jon. “Some practices we employ are our own mulching program in central Florida; utilizing fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP), which increases our tomato stakes’ lifespan from 3–5 years to 15–20 years; and partnering with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, where 100 percent of our domestic works are covered by the Fair Food Program. We have been in agreement with the Coalition for 12 years now, and it’s one of the things we’re proudest of here in the Southeast as we’ve reoriented our business.”
As Jon puts it, tomatoes are a very labor-intensive crop, which is one of the reasons that make the category so special. Some challenges Jon and the Sunripe team consider are efficiency and the residual impact of its cleanup practices on the supplier’s journey to creating a more sustainable environment.
“I always talk about farming as being a million different little tasks,” notes Jon. “The way we efficiently execute those million different tasks, whether it’s laying plastic, pulling plastic, putting in stakes, the planting process, checking all the fields—all of those things are being done by people, and the efficiency that we can bring in our labor force by having a very well-trained and organized labor corps makes all the difference in the world. You can send a group of people out to do the task three times, or you can send them out to do it once.”
Southern Innovations and sustainability go hand in hand just as easily as salt goes on top of tomatoes, and you can find out more about both of these concepts for yourself if you stop by booth #311 to chat with Jon and the Sunripe team.