With internationally valid commercial certificates of safety and social responsibility and a unique strategy of weekly external audits, Eleven Rivers Growers, an organization of the Confederation of Agricultural Associations of the State of Sinaloa (CAADES), seeks an agriculture that feeds the world in a better way: Veggies from Mexico Community.
In 2009, the agricultural sector went through a complex time. On the one hand, the market of the main and most important trading partner, the United States, contracted severely. On the other, the Gross Domestic Product of agriculture decreased from 2.82 to 0.78. It was precisely at this difficult moment, when the agricultural sector was experiencing a challenging period, when Sinaloa’s growers witnessed the creation of Eleven Rivers Growers, now Veggies from Mexico (VFM), an organization made up of experts who would help them obtain favorable results in terms of safety and social responsibility.
They define themselves as a community of growers-marketers who assume the responsibility of feeding the world in a better way. They believe in producing better, sustainable, and fair food from field to fork.
VFM members are growers of fresh, nutritious, healthy, and safe vegetables and say they deliver high-quality food that can be consumed with the confidence that it was grown by a community that respects the environment, promotes the development of people and their communities, and conducts its business with ethics and transparency.
Led by its Chairman of the Board, Antonio Beltran Ochoa, Veggies from Mexico through the CAADES organization, Eleven Rivers Growers, promotes and demands commercial certificates in food safety and social responsibility from Sinaloa companies, that want to be members of the community, all according to international standards demanded by world markets. Subsequently, week after week, a team of expert auditors visits the agricultural companies to audit them and procure the results required to belong to VFM. “Since 2009, our community has been applying and validating a strict compliance system, through verification of the main food safety standards,” says Beltran Ochoa.
“Each company in the community is assigned a compliance level based on the commercial certifications they hold. The Eleven Rivers Growers technical team conducts weekly validation visits of all production areas of the agricultural enterprises, ensuring compliance with the criteria established in the revised certification schemes for our Eleven Rivers Growers Distinctive comprised by the Full Compliance and/or Beyond levels. Although the Eleven Rivers Growers technical team cannot revoke any certification, it has the authority to remove members of the community who have any non-compliance”, indicates its president.
The members of Veggies from Mexico seek positive impacts in the communities and throughout the value chain. That is why they maintain that the commitment to quality must be present in every step of the production chain, so it is important to do the right thing at the beginning of the chain, with our collaborators. They ensure the welfare of farm workers and their families, providing health services, quality education for workers and their children, and a better quality of life.
The agricultural companies of the Veggies from Mexico community have housing areas where all these workers and their families live. These facilities, in addition to having basic services (water, and electricity, among others), have spaces such as sports fields, playgrounds, and green areas, so that all residents and workers can engage in recreational activities.
In addition, the social responsibility personnel has programs focused on planning, organizing, and coordinating activities to improve the coexistence and stay of the workers and their families, participating in sports activities such as soccer and volleyball tournaments, as well as holidays and cultural events, such as the celebration of the Day of the Dead, Mother’s Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Three Kings’ Day, Children’s Day, Student’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, among others.
These types of programs contribute to the integral development of families and the permanence of personnel in the company. There are also exclusive programs for employees’ children, where, in collaboration with public and private institutions, they attend companies, science centers, zoos, and theaters, among others.
Concerning the benefits for companies, Georgius Gotsis, CEO of VFM, explained that members of the community are promoted on the organization’s social networks, are given a special space on the website, and receive a QR code for each of their pallets that are exported to North America, “where the buyer will be able to identify which growers belong to our community,” he said.
In addition, a series of courses are organized every year on a variety of topics. Among the most recent are the following: Registration of workers with the National Housing Fund Institute for Workers (Infonavit) and its benefits, Documents, and records to attend an environmental audit or inspection, Labor supervision, and Obligations acquired in the USMCA (T-MEC).
For more than a decade, an Eleven Rivers technical compliance team has been assisting growers and providing ongoing training programs to achieve certified status for growers in the state.
Currently, there are 13 community member companies, audited weekly by Eleven Rivers, that hold the Full Compliance and/or Beyond badge, of which 12 are at the Beyond level.
The general manager explains that the goal of Veggies from México is to expand its coverage to more Sinaloa farmers and a higher percentage of Sinaloa vegetables. Currently, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are the main crops in the program, but there are other growers and crops that already have safety and social responsibility programs in place that we want to make part of the community. “The program is available to any grower in Sinaloa, our goal is simple to make Sinaloa’s agricultural production safer and more sustainable”, explains Gotsis.
Each interested company is evaluated on:
Vision and values shared with the community
Compliance with Food Safety Standards
Sustainability and social responsibility practices
Reputation within their own community
To be accepted, interested companies require 100% acceptance by the Board of Directors.
The general manager explains that the goal of Veggies from México is to expand its coverage to more Sinaloa farmers and a higher percentage of Sinaloa vegetables. Currently, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are the main crops in the program, but there are other growers and crops that already have safety and social responsibility programs in place that we want to make part of the community. “The program is available to any grower in Sinaloa, our goal is simple to make Sinaloa’s agricultural production safer and more sustainable,” explains Gotsis.
These 13 agricultural companies that make up the Veggies from Mexico community account for about 30 percent of Sinaloa’s vegetable exports, which are approximately 25 million boxes.