with Michoacan Organics & Dr. Jose Maria Anguiano Cardenas
October 13th and 14th, 2017 Michaocan Organics hosted a 2-day workshop training lime farmers in the Veracruz region of Mexico on the basics of organic and biodynamic farming practices specific to citrus and Persian lime cultivation.
Leonel Chavez, CEO of Michoacan Organics, identified the need earlier this year to help organize, and train farmers in the region in organic practices. There is a strong and growing demand for organic Persian limes from Mexico, but a lack of consistent supplies that are truly organic.
Veracruz is one of the worlds premier grower regions for Persian limes. However, the small lime farmers of Veracruz are disorganized, and as such, their prices are lower than what the market is willing to pay. By getting organic certified, and organizing into associations and groups, the farmers can greatly increase their profits, and expand their farming land. Michoacan Organics is hoping to play a leadership role in this process, and work with the growers in the future to export their commercial organic lime harvests to international markets around the world.
Leonel has taken the initiative by financing these workshops and partnering with world class organic Persian lime agronomist Dr Jose Maria Anguiano Cardenas to lead the classes. The training went into the technical side of how to farm organically, and gave some hands on workshops with making highly effective organic fertilizers.
We are excited to see the results of this workshop and learn more about the transition to organic production in the region.
Colombia is best known for its export of coffee and flowers. However, the country is also a major exporter of bananas and plantains. Agriculture entrepreneurs on the Northern coast of Colombia have realized great success growing and exporting bananas and plantains through the years.
The prolonged violence over the last half century in Colombia resulted in a limited fresh produce distribution infrastructure. It was often too costly, too risky, or it would take too much time for agriculture producers to send their fresh produce harvests from the interior of the country to the ports on the Caribbean and Pacific side. This is now starting to change in a positive direction.
However, in the Northern part of Colombia in areas such as Uraba, Cartagena and Santa Marta which are close to the coastal ports, and have favorable agriculture conditions, fresh produce cultivation and exportation has been a feasible venture for some years.
One young entrepreneur, Juan Esteban Barrenche, has activated agriculture production in the Northern region. Juan has converted his family's cattle plantation into a thriving plantain growing operation. Los Martillos is growing commercial conventional plantain on 200 hectares of property. There is a strong domestic demand for plantains from Colombian supermarkets, and commercializers who buy plantains at the farm and then export the product internationally.
In 2017 Juan Esteban began exporting his own products to clients directly in England and France with great success. He is looking to expand his operation to 2000 hectares in the coming years.
On my visit to the Los Martillos farm I was very impressed with the quality of labor, organization of operations, and the consistency of quality and output. The workers were treated like family and there was a very good energy and enthusiasm from everyone involved with the operation.
The property of Los Martillos borders the Caribbean ocean shoreline and makes for one of the most beautiful locations for a plantain farm. Juan travels between his office in Medellin and Uraba where the farm is located; however, he will tell you that his heart is in the countryside and on the farm. He enjoys spending as much time as possible on the farm with his family.
As food service providers and consumers in the United States and Europe learn more about the culinary diversity of plantains, and the health benefits, the demand has been quietly growing. Plantains were once a culturally exclusive product enjoyed by Latin Americans and others who live in the tropics around the world. I believe that the plantain has a huge future with non-Latin consumers who are starting to learn about this wonderful fruit.
One of my favorite places to visit in all of the Americas is the Zill Nursery in Costa Rica. Zill is perhaps best known for his commercial fruit tree nursery located in Southern Florida; however, this little known gem in Orotino, Costa Rica is super cool.
The nursery is a genetics hub where Zill is collecting and testing a variety of tropical fruit tree genetics from all over the world.
On this trip our team was checking out jackfruit, avocado, mango, and durian. We were lucky enough to harvest from massive jackfruits and mango. There are over 80 varieties of mangos located at the nursery. We tried about 10-15 of the varieties.
We are grateful for the work of Mr. Zill and his team in Costa Rica. It is a great resource for finding awesome commercial genetics.
Those who have friends or family who are active in spiritual communities in Latin America and California are certain to have encountered Palo Santo. Palo Santo is regarded as a spiritually cleaning tool to help elevate and cleanse the energy of a physical space. Regardless of if you believe in the spiritual realm, palo santo in my opinion smells amazing and can really activate the physical space.
In the last few years I encountered a company, One Love Holistics. The company is commercializing Palo Santo products (sticks, oils and jewelry.) It is a mission driven entity that is truly supporting the producers creating the products. The company is authentically marketing the product lines and communicating their vision and producer stories from their website and Instagram handle.
Below is an expert from their website that provides some background to their product and mission.
"One Love Holistics specializes in artisan handcrafts, sustainably sourced botanicals, & natural lifestyle products gathered from around the world. We believe in creating globally unified micro-economies through the universal art of craft. Adhering to fair trade standards of labor conditions and our materials sourced, we ensure an ethically sound, love-infused, full circle system of commerce from the origin of every product to its final recycle. We give back to the communities that give to us, and work passionately in the cultivation of the highest quality relationships and products. It is through a lovingly dedicated commitment & the power of creative collaboration with all involved, that we continue to push forward the collective vision of One Love Holistics daily."
Michoacan Organics is bringing Papayas to the United States
Papayas are a delicate fruit, and shipping them commercially to the United States from Mexico is not for the faint-hearted.
Furthermore, commercial organic papaya is relatively unseen in the US market. Michoacan Organics has taken a pioneering role in the export and commercialization of organic papaya to the United States.
It has taken over a year of trial and error to really master the supply chain for this delicate fruit.
Highly tropical, the papaya requires great attention to detail in order to maximize shelf life, maintain a great color, and obtaining the perfect flavor.
If the papaya is harvested premature, i.e. fully green, the fruit will have a great shelf life, but as it ripens, it won't achieve that beautiful golden orange color. It is more likely to ripen a brownish color. And the flavor will be bland and gross. It is not a papaya that people will want to eat.
If the papaya is harvested mature, i.e. mostly yellow, the fruit will taste amazing, but the shelf life will be extremely limited and quickly go bad. The supermarket will end up having to throw out most of the papayas and will ask for a refund.
The perfect commercial organic papaya is harvested green with 1-2 rays of yellow color starting to "break." When harvested at this color the fruit will maintain a nice shelf life, while simultaneously achieving a wonderful flavor.
Michoacan Organics is now designing the organic papaya box as it prepares to launch to the market in early 2018 with its branded papayas grown in Colima, Mexico, and shipped directly to the United States upon harvest.
On Leonel's organic Haas avocado farm in Mexico you won't find a well manicured farm. It certainly doesn't look like the monoculture almond or citrus orchards you see when you drive up and down route 5 in the Central Valley of California.
To the untrained eye, Leonel's farm looks like a messy, unkempt perhaps even abandoned, avocado orchard. A diversity of weeds grow wild, several avocado trees around the property are sick and overrun with pests and the pine forest encroaches onto the farming area.
After spending an afternoon, or several afternoons, walking the farm with Leonel, you learn that there are no accidents. Everything from the weeds, to the containers of fermentations, to the biological corridor, and insects is designed.
Leonel practices the fundamentals of organic agriculture, and integrates it with techniques of permaculture, agroecological systems, and biodynamics. He takes a holistic perspective, and always looks for ways to create a stable ecological environment.
He has invented a system called "Farming for Life." In this system he does not use any repellants or biopesticides that are meant to kill insects. There are numerous organic certified solutions that are meant to control pests with killing. Leonel doesn't believe in this path. He believes that pests can be consistently controlled via creating a balance so that all elements of the farm are in their right place. Fungus stays in the ground when they are in balance, and pests keep to the biological corridor.
The weeds that grow tall are actually a diversified cover crop routine that aims to maximize insect biodiversity, while adding fertility and top soil to the ground.
Leonel is a master of organic and biodynamic avocado cultivation.
In the last five years I've traveled across Costa Rica, mostly visiting pineapple farms. One of the blessings to visit this lovely country is the abundance of tropical fruits available around the country.
Much of the fruit that is grown in Costa Rica is commercialized domestically at the roadside fruit stands. In all of Latin America, there are few countries with the abundance, quality, consistency and diversity of fruits as seen in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has many varieties of mangos, pineapples, passionfruit, coconuts, mamey, mangosteen, rambutan, papaya, cherimoya, avocados and many other fruits. Furthermore, because these fruits are grown in a variety of altitudes and micro climates around the country, tropical fruits are available for extended seasons.
In this post I've shared a few photos I've taken when visiting the roadside fruit markets in Costa Rica. Pura Vida!
Over the past four years I've made a handful of visits to one of my favorite organic growing pioneers in Latin America, Luis Barrantes.
Luis is from rural Costa Rica, and what started as a one hectare conventional pineapple farm a couple decades ago, has transformed into one of the largest organic pineapple operations after Dole.
In addition to his 400+ hectares of organic fresh pineapples that is grown exclusively for international wholesale export markets, Luis also processes organic pineapples instantly into frozen chunks using a system known as IQF or ''Individually Quick Frozen.''
The IQF pineapple facility is rather small in size, but it operates on two lines in a very clean and efficient manner. The freezing operation provides Luis with a unique advantage as a fresh grower. When markets in his destination countries for fresh, like the USA, are low, he can instead send his fresh fruit to be frozen, stored, and shipped to his clients around the world. This helps Luis to manage his supply chain efficiently. It is a model that I personally recommend to other growing groups as to not put too much risk on the volatility of the fresh markets.
It's always mesmerizing to watch the pineapples go from the truck, to being washed, peeled, cut, cubed, frozen, and packed in a matter of minutes. It gives me a lot of confidence in buying frozen fruit at the supermarket to see L y L's awesome operation.
L y L ships bulk wholesale IQF, and fresh conventional and organic pineapples to satisfied clients around the world.
I had the opportunity to collaborate on the creation of the Michoacan Organics brand. Our objective was to create an artistic and authentic commercial avocado brand from Mexico that represents Leonel Chavez's vision for agriculture. The brand appeals to wholesale buyers of organic avocados from around the world.
Working with designer Molly McCoy and Chris Robb was an amazing experience. Coming from the supply side of the industry I always have a deep respect for my marketing and branding counterparts. I am grateful to have had this opportunity to understand a fresh produce brand design process.
Their attention to detail, and deep strategic thinking designed into every decision is amazing to witness. Before even contemplating the visual design, there was an intense process of understanding the mission and vision of the company and Leonel Chavez, the owner, CEO, and farmer.
The research went beyond Leonel, his farms, and avocados. Molly explored classical art from the region, and the native insects, animals and birds. It was a process of extracting the essence of Leonel and Michoacan Organics and transforming it into a brand logo, a box, and marketing materials.
When I stepped out of the airport in Butuan City in the Philippines I knew I had come to a special place. The first two things I noticed were that the taxis said "Durian City" and there was a huge statue of a durian!
It's true, despite the wretched smell, I am a durian freak. I absolutely love durian. I seek it out at specialty supermarkets in Panama and California, and have spent up to $45 on one durian fruit even when my bank account was low.
It's a fruit that has a creamy texture, succulent flavor, that can only be described as durian. In many parts of Southeast Asia the durian is considered a delicacy, a way of life.
Butuan City is one of those places. I too would like to construct a statue of durian to show my respect to the Durian Gods. It's a fruit that elevates my spirit, and brings me a deep peace.
I was visiting Butuan to get some tours of coconut plants for export development purposes. However, I was also in Butuan to eat durian and visit durian farms.
I was able to visit a small durian farm up in the hills. While there was no ripe durian, I did get to see the fruit growing in its ideal condition. I asked the small farmer the key to growing durian, they were confused about my question because at their farm, it just grows! No pesticides, no fertilizer, they just harvest it when it is ripe.
After my farm visit I was dropped at my hotel and I quickly asked around for where I can go and buy some Durian. To my amazement, there is a small market in Butuan City dedicated entirely to the sale of fresh and frozen durian. What a blessing!
I grabbed a taxi and headed straight to the market.
I found heaven on earth... I went to the first stand and bought a fresh durian. With a huge smile, I ate the first durian and ordered a second one! I took my time on the second one as to be careful to not overdose.
I then proceeded to buy another package of frozen durian to take back with me to my hotel. Back at my hotel I had to pass through security. However, I was stopped in my tracks by the security person who was looking for durian in my bags!
He found it, and made it clear I would have to leave my durian in the outside refrigerator as it was the hotel policy that no one was allowed to enter the hotel with durian, as the smell could upset other hotel guests.
After finishing my tour of the Geisha farm, it was now time to do a cupping of their different lots, and blends.
Garrido has a cupping room where they have artisanal small-scale roasting. On a large round table eight different roasted beans are lined up in glass containers. One by one the beans are ground and then top down poured.
First we start with the Geisha - Caturra blends, which are said to be around 88-89 scores. We grab our metal spoon and sip loudly, oxygenating the liquid embracing the experience in full. I take note of the smells, taste, and overall experience. The 88 score blend had a light floral fragrance and a mellow coffee flavor. While delicious, I had tried coffees before in that range.
As we advanced around the table, sampling the other varieties, we went up on scoring. The flavors got increasingly fragrant with a range of floral, and fruity notes that hit on different areas of the palette.
As a novice to world class coffee I was in complete shock that as we got to 94 scores and up, the coffee literally tasted like fruits. The 94 score resembled pineapple, and the 96 score coffee was as if I had drank a cup of ripe wild blueberries.
Garrido's coffee is available wholesale in small batches green and is shipped to exquisite coffee purveyors in major metropolitan areas around the world.
I learned in this experience that fine coffee is in many ways like fine wine. From the growing, to processing, to pouring, to tasting, there is a deep culture and every detail makes a difference as you transcend from a score in the mid to high 80s (considered high quality) up into the 90s.
In the industry of international fruit and vegetable import/export having a Global Gap or PrimusGFS certification is becoming increasingly important, and in many cases a requirement of distributors and retailers. In 2018 FSMA laws (Food Safety Modernization Act) is coming online in the United States, which is making Global GAP certification more important than ever to fulfill traceability requirements.
Global Gap is a certification that has to do with value chain food safety and traceability. It is a set of requisites and documentation procedures that is designed to provide a greater level of control across the value chain.
According to Bureau Varitas GLOBAL G.A.P. is defined as the following:
"GLOBALG.A.P. is an internationally recognized set of farm standards dedicated to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). Through certification, producers demonstrate their adherence to GLOBALG.A.P. standards.
For consumers and retailers, the GLOBALG.A.P. certificate is reassurance that food reaches accepted levels of safety and quality, and has been produced sustainably, respecting the health, safety and welfare of workers, the environment, and in consideration of animal welfare issues. Without such reassurance, farmers may be denied access to markets. Bureau Veritas Certification understands all these issues and can perform the necessary audits to help you achieve GLOBALG.A.P. Certification."
This past week Coopeassa Cooperative outside of San Isidro General in rural Costa Rica, received it Global Gap certificate for exporting their fresh organic pineapples. Certain new signages and upgrades to the farm infrastructure for farm workers was required in order for Coopeassa to pass their Global GAP inspection.
Now that Coopeassa has achieved its Global GAP certification the company will soon be ready to start shipping its organic fresh pineapples grown on small farms to large distributors and retail clients in the United States and Europe.
Our team is interested in attending this produce show in Amsterdam November 15-17. Holland is well known in the produce industry for being a leading buyer and trader of fresh produce sourced from around the world.
Rotterdam is one of the most important ports for agricultural imports in the world. Product that arrives in Rotterdam is shipped all across Europe and beyond.
In our industry having sales outlets for buyers in Rotterdam is seen as critical by larger scale growers/packers/exporters.
Our team has been learning about rising demands of organic produce from tropical and sub tropical regions in Europe, and especially within the German, and Swiss markets.
The United States is an obvious market for Latin American farmers. The size of the market, and geographic proximity is a major advantage. Although Europe is a larger travel distance for Latin American growers, it is still a key export location which is preferred by many growers. European prices tend to be higher, and with more diversified distribution.
Every time I arrive back in California following an international trip, I head straight to the Berkeley Bowl West in Berkeley, California.
In all my travels and visits to supermarkets and fruit markets around the United States and Latin America, I still am yet to find a place like the Berkeley Bowl.
Berkeley Bowl is a legendary supermarket located in Berkeley, California. The original Berkeley Bowl store is located in North Berkeley. What was once a bowling alley, it was converted into a supermarket. The second, and much larger Berkeley Bowl West is located in West Berkeley.
The store is most well known for its produce section. It features organic and conventional produce from local harvests in California, around the United States and internationally. The organic produce section at Berkeley Bowl is larger than most supermarkets entire produce section. Due to the tremendously high volume of foot traffic (i.e. consumers) Berkeley Bowl is able to constantly rotate its produce and ensure that everything out on the floor is fresh.
As a professional in the produce industry I spend a lot of time walking around the organic and conventional produce sections and checking out what's in season, if there are new varieties of fruits and vegetables being sold, or new brands of produce entering the market. As a consumer it is my heaven. I am lucky to have lived a mile or less away from Berkeley Bowl or Berkeley Bowl West for the last nine years.
I've included some photos from a recent visit to the Berkeley Bowl.
Valle Verde has one of the most impressive large scale organic farming operations that I have encountered in Latin America. The company grows organic pineapples on 400 hectares of certified organic land in Pital, Costa Rica. It is a professionally managed, systematic operation that produces a consistently high quality organic pineapple for fresh export internationally, and for the sister company's IQF (frozen chunk) operation.
Valle Verde had to overcome some serious obstacles in the last few years. The company was wrongly accused by its competitors of shipping conventional pineapples as organic to international markets. These accusations were taken seriously and a detailed investigation took place on Valle Verde's fruit and operations.
At the end of this process, in the last few months, Valle Verde was cleared of all charges and has regained its standing as an organic certified pineapple exporter. It's unfortunate that the Valle Verde team had to go through this experience, but at the end, it gives more confidence to their clients that their fruit is legitimately organic, and there is no messing around.
Valle Verde has figured out how to mass produce one of the most difficult organic crops to cultivate in the tropics. The pineapple is a bromeliad and is traditionally found in shady areas. Cultivating the fruit on a large scale comes with a large risk of nematodes, insect pests and other diseases. A strict regiment of preventative measures is required in order to maintain consistent outputs without losses from plagues and diseases.
As the excitement of Blockchain technology has swept across the finance industry and into other industries around the world, many believe that agriculture as well will be greatly impacted.
For those of you who are new to the term, Investopedia defines Blockchain as the following:
"A blockchain is a digitized, decentralized, public ledger of all cryptocurrency transactions. Constantly growing as 'completed' blocks (the most recent transactions) are recorded and added to it in chronological order, it allows market participants to keep track of digital currency transactions without central recordkeeping. Each node (a computer connected to the network) gets a copy of the blockchain, which is downloaded automatically."
For the international agriculture industry our team envisions blockchain having two short term impacts:
First, the current systems for payments and transactions across countries are costly and inefficient. Banks are the intermediaries between a producer and buyer. It is common for payments, sometimes very large agriculture transactions, domestic and international, to take days to process. From a logical perspective, if one business is sending a payment to another, why should it not be instantaneous? As soon as the buyer executes the transaction, the money ought to be rewarded to the grower/seller. Instead, there are lag times between the buyer sending the payment, and the seller receiving it. These lag times can be very frustrating to growers and exporters who are constantly limited by the cash flow. A farmer must invest for months and sometimes years to achieve their harvest. Once the work is done, the product is sold, and the buyer has approved the payment, the money is still not received right away. Sometimes the difference of a day or week for a producer means a lot.
With cryptocurrency and utilization of Blockchain technology, these large payments can circumvent the inefficiencies of financial institutions and be completed in moments. As soon as the buyer executes the payment, it can be received by producers. This innovation would be a blessing for many who are in the business of growing, packaging, and exporting agriculture products for international markets.
The second area of innovation useful to agriculture is the documentation and authenticity. Using the blockchain technology could provide an avenue for complete authenticity, transparency and success in the movement of documentation that corresponds to harvests. The organic certifications, Global GAP traceability information, and the details on the transportation and physical storage of the raw materials, could all be built into the blockchain and provide a new level of confidence and accessibility to the credibility of a value chain.
With the adoption of just these two innovations, blockchain technology will have a monumental impact on the agriculture industry. It will be part of a great modernization that is taking place in food safety, transaction, and traceability.
Commercial organic fruit production generally relies on a process known as 'Grafting.' Grafting is a horticultural technique of asexual propagation in which a desired root stock i.e. seed is joined together with a desired scion. The root stock tends to be a hearty, local variety of the fruit that will provide a strong root system, and disease resistance. It contains the genetics that are adapted specifically to thrive in the local environment.
This root stock is combined with the same genetics from the ideal fruit. Thus, grafting gives the grower the best of both worlds: A hearty, and well adapted tree, that contains a high yielding, top quality fruit. Grafting can also reduce the amount of time until the first harvest is achieved.
When it comes to organic hass avocado production in Michoacan Mexico, grafting is a standard technique. With a high cost of land, and a motivation to maximize profits, it's important to make sure their trees are of the best quality. If a grower is going to invest in the labor, and input costs to grow a tree for three years, they want to make sure that when it's time to harvest, they are getting their best return.
Leonel Chavez takes great pride in his Hass Avocado nursery located at one of the Michoacan Organics' flagship farms. Currently he has over 10,000 trees that have been growing, and meticulously cared for over the last 18 months.
Here are some photos at different times from Leonel's nursery located in Uruapan, Mexico. Most of these trees are being grown for use at Leonel and his family's avocado farms. He also sells his Hass starters to other farmers in the region.
For the last five years I have been helping a fast-growing organic farm in Panama called Simply Natural. It's been truly amazing to see the company grow from concept, to fully established commercial farming operation in such a short period of time.
Given my background in horticulture and relative understanding of commercial organic agriculture, I am always curious what farms do for natural pest control or an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) system.
On this visit I learned that one of their keys to success is Neem. Neem is an incredible tropical tree from India with a 1001 uses. You may have noticed it as a featured ingredient in your holistic toothpaste or floss. In fact it is a very useful tree for commercial tropical agriculture.
The tree has an incredible amount of foliage and acts as a biological corridor, or screen, for pollutions on neighboring land and properties. Furthermore, the leaves contain chemicals that naturally repel a lot of insects that otherwise would be attracted to the mango.
As it was explained to me on my farm visit, the mango farm is surrounded in Neem trees as a natural repellent to a lot of insects.
Furthermore, the berries from the neem trees are harvested and processed into an oil, which is then mixed into a solution that is used as a foliar spray on the mangos and mango trees. This helps to ensure the health of the tree and fruit, and keeps yields at a high level.
Neem trees, like most mango varieties, are drought tolerant. They are happiest when they have an extended dry season. Therefore in places like Cocle, Panama, where Simply Natural is located, the neem tree thrives. Only a minimal amount of water may be needed to establish the tree, but mostly it's a tree that can be planted and left to its nature to grow.
Next time you are enjoying an organic mango, it may be thanks to a nearby neem tree!
This past week I spent a day with the Coopeassa Cooperative located outside of San Isidro General in Costa Rica. It was an exciting moment to visit with the Cooperative since the group is preparing for their first commercial organic pineapple harvest destined for export to the United States and Germany.
Their organic pineapple operation is unique to the other commercial organic pineapple farms in Costa Rica. The Coopeassa farms consist of .5 hectare to 5 hectare plots which are independently owned and managed by the cooperative members. Each of the farms is surrounded by biological corridors rich in trees and diversified plantings. In contrast, the largest organic pineapple player in the world, Dole, has plantings of 500 to 1500 hectares! This is truly artisanal organic farm production at its finest.
Furthermore, the Coopeassa farms are located at 700-800 meters altitude, which is higher altitude than normal for commercial pineapple production in Costa Rica. The general manager of the cooperative, Walter Elizondo claims that the higher altitude is resulting in a fruit that is higher in bric content with a deeper pineapple flavor.
I was lucky enough to get to try a perfectly ripened, freshly harvested pineapple. It was spectacular!
Our team is very happy to announce that our next branded Michoacan Organics product will be Persian Limes.
Around eight months ago our team was notified by buyers that there was a major shortage in organic limes for much of the year. Lime farmers in Mexico are relatively dispersed and unorganized. In the main production region of Veracruz, growers of limes often only have 1-5 hectares of production.
Unlike avocados which has a strong marketing association, organized cooperatives and certified organic farms, lime growers have a long way to go.
Where most see obstacles, Leonel Chavez, founder of Michoacan Organics, sees opportunity. As a lime grower himself earlier in his life, Leonel knows what it takes to grow commercial grade organic Persian limes. He also knows what is required to educate growers on organic practices, and how to manage proper logistics and traceability.
Leonel is a pioneer in organic agriculture in Mexico for over 20 years. Many farmers from around the country of Mexico know and respect Leonel for what he has done organizing workshops, and providing free support to growers looking to get into organic and biodynamic agriculture in Mexico.
Leonel is driven by justice. He believes that farmers ought to be paid respectable prices for the hard work and risks taken in growing their products. He understands that the more organized growers are, the better the prices they are able to achieive.
With this motivation, Leonel and his team on the ground in Mexico have been organizing workshops for organic lime production. He is preparing growers to get certified and increase yields using better growing practices.
Within the next 60-90 days Leonel and his Michoacan Organics team will be shipping out organic certified Persian limes from Veracruz, Mexico, with other regions to come online in 2018. The new Michoacan Organics Limes box is currently being designed, and we will be sure to share it with you as soon as its complete.
If you are interested in limes for your business, you can contact Leonel and his team at firstname.lastname@example.org to begin organizing your orders for organic persian limes directly from the source in Mexico.
Crespo is a grower, packer and US distributor of organic mangos of Mexican origin. The company has done a beautiful job of vertically integrating their operation.
Our team was researching in-store marketing concepts for farmer direct organic fruits and vegetables. We came across Crespo and some of their mango displays in supermarket locations in the Northeastern United States. We've attached some of the images below.
Not only does the company seem to grow and market excellent mangos, but they also have an awesome website. I was drawn to the information they have put together about the history of Mexican mango culture. This historical summary of Mexican mangos can be viewed here as well.
We certainly plan to reach out to Crespo and learn more about their operations, as we are inspired by what their family has been able to achieve in the organic agriculture business internationally.
Founded in 1971 the CBI is the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries. The organization based in the Netherlands is funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and has a purpose of helping contribute to sustainable and inclusive economic development in developing countries through the expansion of exports from these countries to Europe.
According to the CBI the import of fresh limes to the European market increased by 50% in volume from 2011 to 2015 as a result of its use in food preparation and beverages.
Most of these Persian lime imports are coming from the source countries of Brazil and Mexico. Together these two countries were 94% of the total lime import market to Europe.
The Netherlands is far and away the most important importer of limes in Europe, in part because much of the imports are distributed across Europe.
Within Europe, the Northern Europeans have the strongest demand for limes. Furthermore, there is an increasing demand for limes, and fruit in general that are grown with social accountability and organic certification.
Here's the research article on exporting fresh limes to Europe from the CBI website.
Have you noticed that the mangos you buy at your local supermarket don't taste quite the same as the mangos you purchased during your last visit to Mexico or somewhere else in the tropics?
Many people think it's a simple case of "freshness." Certainly it's true that a vine ripened mango, harvested at its peak flavor, and consumed right away has a spectacular flavor. It is the ideal way to eat a fresh mango and doesn't compare to a mango that was harvested premature to survive refrigeration and international shipping.
However, a big reason that mangos in the United States don't taste the same is because the USDA requires that mangos that come from most of Mexico, and all of Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil perform a "Hot Water Treatment," i.e. a 10 minute bath at 115 degrees.
This treatment is performed in order to prevent any issues related to the prevention of Mediterranean Fruit Fly outbreaks in the United States. However, the downside of this is that the quality, in my opinion, is impacted. In addition, it would be interesting to find out if this has any consequence on the nutrition of the fresh mango.
You can see on the wholesale box of mango if it has been hot water treated.
This is a photo of an organic mango that I recently bought in California at the supermarket. You can tell that the texture looks a bit off from what you may be used to in the tropics. In addition the flavor profile was just "ok."
Regardless of the Hot Water Treatment I still sometimes buy mangos in the United States, however I usually prefer to buy frozen cubed mango for personal consumption since it can be harvested ripe and doesn't require the bath.
Organic Avocado Grower / Packer in Michoacan, Mexico
For the last three years our team has been working with one of Mexico's finest organic avocado growers, Alejandro Chavez. Alejandro is the little brother of Leonel Chavez and he has been growing organic avocados for almost ten years. Like Leonel he uses a combination of permaculture, organic and biodynamic growing practices to achieve an ecological balance on his farm.
Last year Alejandro opened his own packing facility to compliment his 150+ hectares of organic avocado production. He is now packing both conventional and organic avocados from his farm and others for wholesale export.
Alejandro invested in his packing facility to add a vertical to his operation. Alejandro was tired of waiting in line at other packing houses, and not being able to control the quality of his "pack" for clients. He was ready to control his own destiny and decided to invest his profits into this state of the art facility.
The facility has modern sorting and refrigeration technology and is able to pack more than 10 loads of avocados in one day. With ample storage space, Alejandro's packing business has room for lots of growth into the future. Alejandro can be a man of few words at times, but the quality of his fruit and packing speaks for itself.
Since it's opening, our team has represented the facility and have helped Alejandro sell his loads of avocados directly to distributors in the United States. Alejandro packs the avocados under his 'AC Avocados' brand and also under the brand of his clients in the United States and elsewhere domestically and internationally.
This was my first tour of the facility and I was impressed with how much progress has been made as he begins the second year of operations. Still the office remains to be completed but the infrastructure is equipped and functional.
In additional to selling Alejandro's packed fruit, we also commonly contract Alejandro to be a contract packer of organic avocados for Leonel's Michoacan Organics brand. We like to 'keep it in the family' whenever possible and bring Leonel and his family's fruit to Alejandro's facility.
As season two ramps up, we are enthusiastic to have solved a lot of first season issues and push forward offering his organic and conventional avocados from Michoacan to buyers in the United States, Europe and Asia.
There has been a lot of international banana news coming out of Panama the last few months. Del Monte has signed a contract with the Panama government to invest $100M+ into a new banana operation in the district of Baru.
The President of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela states that the program will create 3,100 direct jobs and 12,000 indirect jobs.
A couple years before this announcement, I was in Chiriqui for a project and had a chance to visit the abandoned banana industry. It looked like a ghost town out of a coffee table book. Relics of the banana industry could be found around the port area. The small quiet town seemed to rely on fishing, collecting coconuts, and limited tourism to get by.
It is a beautiful port area that certainly has a lot of potential for both commercial exports, and cruise lines for tourism.
It will be interesting to see how the Del Monte conventional banana deal in Panama comes together over the next few years.
I've attached some of the photos from my visit, along with some other old-school Chiriqui, Panama banana era photos that I have found online.
Over the last six months our team has been developing conventional and organic limes supplies directly from growers and packers in Veracruz, Mexico. Veracruz is to Persian limes as Michoacan is to Hass avocados.
Veracruz is the cradle of Persian lime production in Mexico, and worldwide. Located on the Caribbean side of Mexico, packing facilities in Veracruz sell their limes all over the world. Veracruz has 12 months of production, however there is a low season from about March to June.
While our main focus is developing organic lime supplies we have started with conventional since that is what is available and it gets us in with the people growing and packing limes.
Getting into new fruits there is always a learning curve. Limes has been no different for us. We are learning that one of the key determinants of quality is the color. If there is too much yellow in the fruit it may not be considered a USDA #1, and thus may have to be discounted by the buyer in the US. This is exactly what happened to us on the second shipment we made to New York.
Anticipating a drop in production because of an upcoming hurricane to the region, we worked to get a load out to a new client. While the juice was of top quality, the color wasn't ideal and as such, it had to be discounted upon arrival.
This is a common theme in the fresh fruit world. The fruit often times may taste excellent, but if the aesthetics doesn't fit the grade, they will still be discounted on their price paid to the exporter. It's a difficult reality in the 'visual' world we find ourselves in. Over many decades consumers have demanded a beautiful appearance on fruit from their supermarkets, and in return the supermarkets demand this superficial quality from their distributors.
It has led to a situation where we are discounting or in many cases sending fruit to be processed instead of selling it fresh even though the quality is perfect!
Anyone who spends time at farms or with produce knows that much of the fruit that is harvested by growers isn't perfect, and lots of money is lost because of this visual demand. It's all part of the fruit game in the 21st century, and why it's so important to have great secondary markets of processors and domestic buyers. Often times the profits for growers are made in how much money isn't lost in their second grade fruit harvests.
Coopeassa Cooperative has been a leader in organic agriculture development in Costa Rica. The cooperative converted its farming operation to organic over 10 years ago in its production of coffee, citrus and banana.
Now, in 2017 Coopeassa begins harvesting its first organic certified pineapple crops for export markets.
This development began over two years ago when the group realized that in order to expand economically, they would have to diversify their crops. Coffee has a limited profit per hectare, and the bananas were sold into domestic processors at large margins.
Organic pineapple production became the most popular concept for achieving this commercial empowerment for the community of growers. Coopeassa hired top organic pineapple agriculture engineers and fertilizer experts from the other pineapple growing regions, and built out its pineapple operation from the ground up.
The cooperative is filled with excitement as the first harvests get ready to be sent to leading produce distributors in the United States and Europe.
It will take some time for the cooperative's brand image to establish itself with consumers and retailers, however we are confident Coopeassa will be positioned as a best in class organic pineapple grower.
The quality of Coopeassa's organic pineapples goes well beyond the fruit itself. The fruit is grown entirely on small plots by independent farmers. The other exporting organic pineapple farms in Costa Rica have farms of 50 hectares up to 1500 hectares. These are large scale industrial operations. Coopeassa's largest pineapple farming area, by comparison is only 5 hectares. Furthermore, the farms maintain strong biological corridors, and the farm workers are all treated with the highest level of integrity and respect. The farms are located at 700-800 meters altitude, which is abnormal for commercial pineapple, which normally is grown closer to sea level.
It is a community project and an incredible example of the success a cooperative can achieve when working together to create high quality organic agriculture operations.
I was fortunate the try the organic pineapple on my last visit to Coopeassa. The fruit was incredibly sweet and had an intense taste that I call "pineapple heaven."
Having spent the last six years visiting with farmers in Latin America I have consistently been offered to buy bulk green conventional and organic coffee. Most of the time I simply respond that coffee is its own beast, and I stick to the fruits. But, given the coffee culture in Boquete, Panama I decided to take a deeper look.
One of my favorite agriculture tourism experiences in Panama was a visit to the world class coffee region of Boquete, Chiriqui, Panama.
While I appreciate quality coffee, my experience in coffee tends to be one of necessity. In the past I drank coffee because it was early in the morning and I needed help to wake up and start working, or I had a coffee meeting and I was drinking socially.
I could definitely taste and appreciate the difference between coffee brewed at Blue Bottle compared to Dunkin Donuts (sorry Dunkin Donuts). However, I never ventured into the world of pristine coffee experience. Having spent time in some of the nicest coffee shops in San Francisco, California I have seen the $10 coffees on the menu and often wondered who pays that much for coffee, and why! After visiting with Garrido Coffee in Boquete, Panama, I now understand the reason.
David Garrido, the owner and operator of Garrido Coffee was kind enough to give my dad and I a tour of his coffee farm and do a tasting of his coffee varieties.
The Geisha coffee has gained a reputation of being a smooth, yet deep flavored coffee with flower and fruit aromas and a range of taste nodes. The rumor in Panama is the most expensive bulk wholesale coffee ever purchased was Geisha from Panama at the coffee auction. Legend has it a buyer from Asia paid over $300 for just one pound of green coffee.
On my visit I first got a tour of the Geisha coffee farm located at exactly 1500 meters above sea level. The Geisha coffee is planted alongside the more common Caturra variety. The rich volcanic soil is filled with worms and other beneficial insects. The leaves and branches from the coffee plants quickly decompose and is converted into a naturally rich fertilizer. David explains that to get the perfect flavor he uses a bit of artificial fertilizer in order to provide the exact perfect deployment of nutrients. The plants are grown in partial shade, and surrounded by biological corridor of native forest and streams.
When it is harvest time the pickers know to only harvest the Geisha plants first in order to get a 100% pure Geisha harvest. However on the second and third harvests the Geisha plants are harvested with the Caturra beans and Geisha blends are created.
Capiro grows an impressive 80 varieties of flowers commercially. The company packs and ships their own flowers from their facilities located about 45 minutes outside of Medellin near Rio Negro. The company is truly an innovator in the floriculture industry. They have a breeding program in which they are creating their own proprietary flower varieties.
They are especially known for the following varieties: Hydrangeas, Button, Cushion, Fillers, Novelty, Spider, Cremon, Daisy, Santini and Tinted.
Capiro has mastered international flower logistics. Over many years of trial and error they have figured out how to ship cut flowers by boat using climate controlled cooling technology. This allows them to ship more cost effectively around the world while maintaining an excellent quality and shelf life.
Two weeks ago I made my first visit to Simply Natural's organic lime plantation. The owners had told me of their plans to grow organic Persian limes which I thought was a great idea. Persian limes are in high demand in the USA, and on the organic side there always seems to be a shortage.
Having worked in lime sourcing from Mexico, I know that the Veracruz region of Mexico is a major global player, similar to how Michoacan is known for avocados. Every year during hurricane season there always seems to be a supply shock and a shortage occurs.
Furthermore, buyers like to have secondary options from countries of origin outside of Mexico. On the organic side, there is still poor organization among Mexican lime farmers, and there looks to be a major opportunity for organic lime exportation from Latin American countries outside of Mexico like Panama.
The first thing to note when investigating an organic lime operation is the genetics. Simply Natural refers to their variety as "Rainforest limes." Andrew Winstead, the director of their export marketing company Simply Natural Harvest, harvested some limes from one of their parent trees. The Persian lime had a deep lime smell, and the flavor was explosive. I felt confident that these guys had chosen an excellent variety of lime, and that the conditions in Cocle in which their limes were being grown were ideal for export grade.
We then drove about 5-10 minutes from their main mango farm and nursery to their lime operation. Their first lime planting looked to be stabilized and growing well.
The initial investors for their organic Persian lime program are certainly in good hands. The plant nutrition program and integrated pest management systems were well organized and being properly implemented. When I visited, there was a team from Israel providing consulting on their irrigation systems and agricultural engineering. After a 10 minute chat with the Israeli's I was convinced that Simply Natural was working with some of the best engineers in the business.
Limes start to harvest in two years, more quickly than Simply Natural's mangos. I am looking forward to seeing these lime trees grow up and begin harvesting. Everything checks out from a marketing and agricultural perspective, and I wouldn't be surprised to see their organic persian lime or "Rainforest Lime" operation scale up.
The Woodstock Fruit Festival is an event that takes place in the countryside of upstate New York. It is an event for fruit and health enthusiasts. There is food, music, workshops, sports and more activities to learn, meet new people and entertain yourself.
All of the food that is served is raw, vegan, oil, salt, sugar and additives free; 70% of it organic. There were extremely delicious sauces everyday to go with the foods, and a wide selection of my favorite exotic fruits like durian, rambutans, mamey, dragonfruit and more.
I am from Panama and one of our favorite fruits is the papaya so it was surprising to find one of the best papayas I have ever tried here. It gives testamente to the advancements in logistics that can transport a highly perishable fresh fruit like papaya all the way to upstate New York in perfect condition.
All of this healthy food induced a natural bliss in which everyone was happy and enjoying the moment without any artificial stimulant, just a high vibrational food experience. At the event I was able to approach anyone and start an exciting conversation about fruits, farming, health or life in general.
It is really inspiring to see how many people are starting to join this amazing community of being a fruit enthusiast, working towards a healthy lifestyle supporting growth of the mind, body and soul.
While I am personally vegan, and the event was strictly raw vegan, the event was inclusive to everyone regardless of dietary decisions. Everyone was there to hang out without judgement and celebrate the abundance of fruits and vegetables that we are blessed with.
The attendees from the event were diverse. Most of the people were from the United States but I also met people from Australia, Scotland, England, Canada, Argentina and even another Panamanian guy who I met for the first time in my life at the event.
I definitely would recommend the fruit festival for anyone who appreciates fruits and vegetables, lives a vegan lifestyle, or just would like a new experience hanging out with amazing, open minded, and kind people coming together to celebrate life.
The Most Important Fresh Produce Expo in the US - October 19-21
Next week is the highly anticipated PMA Fresh Summit. All the movers and shakers, influencers and industry players will be gathering in New Orleans to meet with existing clients and partners from around the world, and to form new partnerships. It's the who's who in the produce universe.
The event is rather expensive and thus, only those who are serious about produce make it to the event. Many countries invest in booths, with entrepreneurs and exporters from their countries gaining entrance to the expo.
Many of the major distributors, brands, importers, packing facilities, from North America, and globally will have booths and representatives walking the show.
Buyers from supermarkets, distributors, food service providers, and international importers will be at the show scouting out new supply relationships.
Mexico always has an impressive showing at the event, with the Avocados from Mexico being the impressive centerpiece to the strong Mexican industry. Small growers and packing houses have mini-booth setups within the Mexico section. For my interests it is the most important section that I walk through each year.
I'm also excited to visit the Peru, Chile, Costa Rica and Colombia booths to learn about which growers are represented at the show and what new products and projects are coming online.
Organic continues to be a major trend. Major brands and distributors that may have been late to the game with organic are now making a strong push forward in new organic programs.
Organic and conventional products that I will be looking at this PMA include: avocados, lemons, limes, mangos, pineapples, and exotic fruits.
Following the event I will be sharing some of my feedback and experiences from this years show.
A Price Look Up Code is a number often used in the North American and other retail industries. The code or 'number' is found on individual pieces of fresh produce (fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, etc) and serves to make store check out and inventory control more efficient. It's a system that has been in place since 1990 and is now commonplace.
It's very important to note that putting a PLU code on the product isn't required by law. Therefore, its possible that a product without a PLU code could still be genetically modified or conventional unless stated otherwise.
The PLU code will either be four or five digits long depending upon the product variables. It's worth noting that PLU number can also be useful for consumers as well, not just retailers.
If the PLU starts with a '9' it means that the product is certified organic. '8' it means that the product is genetically modified. If it has four digits and starts with a '6' the product is a fresh cut fruit or veggie. If it has four digits and starts with a '4' then it can be assumed it is conventionally grown. If the PLU has four digits and starts with a '3' the product has undergone an iodizing irradiation treatment.
In many ways I regard Maria as the mother of organic avocado farming in Mexico, and deservedly so. She is the mother of 11 kids who all grow avocados, and now she has grandkids that are growing organic avocados.
She raised her family on a self sufficient family farm in rural Michoacan, Mexico. Everything was grown for family consumption, and any leftovers were bartered in town. Now her family has over 800 hectares of avocado production, and one of her sons owns a packing house.
Maria is located about 30 minutes outside of Uruapan and is managing her 7 hectare organic avocado farm. Leonel and I drove into her property just as Maria was finishing the foliar spraying of her biofertilizer fermented preparations. These preparations consists of plant materials from her farm, fermented overtime with molasses (to activate the microorganisms.) For a woman of 75 years I was impressed to see her work the machine.
As always Maria greeted us with a huge smile, and a big hug as she was happy to see her son Leonel. Right away we walked the avocado farm with Maria as she wanted Leonel's opinion on a young tree that was getting eaten by insects. Leonel gave her advice, which was to let the insects eat the tree, and to focus her energy on saving the trees around it. I'm not sure if Maria agreed with his strategy, but it was a cool moment to be a part of.
We then walked back to Maria's farm house where she gave us a tour of her organic vegetable garden. Leonel harvested some tomato and chayote. We took it back to her outdoor kitchen. Leonel cut the chayote, added fresh lime juice and sea salt. We then cut tomatoes and avocados, and made mini chayote sandwiches. Looking out at the view of the mountains in the distance, I felt blessed to be in Mexico.
On this trip I decided to purchase 10 bars of Maria's homemade organic soap. She told me that many years ago she had a dream that one day she would be old and have nothing to do and would be bored. After waking from the dream she decided to take destiny into her own hands, and began pursuing her soap business. For three years she has created formulas, featuring her avocados, mamey and the herbs from her garden. Maria's skin is always glowing. She gives credit to her soap. Once she felt the formula was perfected she began gifting the soap to some family and friends. Now there is a following of people in Uruapan who only use Maria's soap to wash their face.
After completing our visit to the packing facility Leonel expressed his desire to have a proper breakfast before visiting his mom's farm. Apparently the tacos and orange juice didn't fulfill Leonel's appetite. I usually start my day with juice, some fruit, or perhaps a smoothie. So the big Mexican breakfast is a bit outside of my routine. However, I am always mentally, and sometimes physically prepared for my visits to Michoacan. I love Mexican food.
Being the wonderful host he is Leonel asked me if I wanted to go to Rinconcito for breakfast, probably my favorite restaurant in all of Mexico. Rinconcito is a casual sit down family restaurant that is very well known in Uruapan. It is owned by an avocado grower, and they are known for their molcajete. Instead of bread and butter to start the meal, they provided us with fresh tortillas, avocado, and hot sauce.
For this trip to Mexico, for the first time I can remember I shaved my face and left a thick mustache. I figured I could get a laugh out of Leonel and his associates, and perhaps even gain some respect for a respectable mustache.
After downing some fresh carrot juice, and eating some sautéed local veggies with tortillas, pico de gallo salsa, and more avocado, Leonel's oldest son, Leonel, joined us at the restaurant. Leonel Jr is also an avocado farmer and manufacturer of organic fertilizers which he sells to his family's farms and other growers in the region. Leonel Jr showed up and talked business with his dad for a bit.
It's taken four years of working with Leonel to be able to understand well his dialect of Spanish. Some of my Colombian and Panamanian friends who know Leonel have trouble understanding his Spanish, so I definitely tap myself on the back for being a gringo who can communicate well with rural farmers from Michoacan!
Leonel Jr. surprised me with a special gift after the breakfast. He presented me with some "Miel de Aguacate" or "Avocado Honey." Basically, it's honey that has been collected from bee hives at the avocado farm, and has a unique flavor that has some avocado notes.
Nicaragua is a small country in Central America. Most people in the United States know it either for geo-political reasons from the 1980s or perhaps its high quality coffee.
Nicaragua is rich in fresh water and natural resources. For a country of about six million people, there is an incredible amount of arable land ready to be put into productive agriculture. Furthermore, the country has an incredible road infrastructure.
I was fortunate to spend a few days in Nicaragua with a group called CAC Trading which is a leading entrepreneur in the development and commercialization of organic products grown by small farmers in Nicaragua. Ramses Ortega is their director, he served as my tour guide for my trip.
I learned from Ramses that Nicaragua is a bread basket for Central America. A lot of the beans, grains and roots grown in Nicaragua are sent to its neighboring countries, like El Salvador. The potential in Nicaragua for organic agriculture production and export is exponential. This has already being proven by Ramses and his team.
CAC Trading has the following vision:
"We strive to help small organic farmers in Nicaragua. We will work to improve their technical and financial know how, so we can be agents of change in our community, in a way we can improve the quality of life of our growers, and at the same time, build a sustainable business for our partners."
CAC Trading is already commercializing organic chia, sesame, red beans, black beans and coffee. These crops are all grown by small organic farmers. The seeds, beans and grains are purchased, packed and labeled by CAC Trading and then sold for wholesale export. By accessing foreign markets with organic products, the small farmers that work with CAC Trading receive up to 500% greater returns on their agriculture outputs.
CAC Trading is now diversifying into organic pineapple. My visit to Nicaragua was to visit their organic pineapple operation and to give them my perspective on the commercialization potential to markets in the United States.
While there is a long road ahead for Nicaragua to be an international pineapple player like its neighbor, Costa Rica, organic pineapple production is certainly feasible. In fact there may be some considerable advantages to growing pineapple in Nicaragua; First, the cost of labor is cheaper in Nicaragua than Costa Rica. Secondly, the cost of land is much less. Finally, given there is not much production of pineapple currently, there may be lowered risks of pests and disease spreading from farm to farm.
I will certainly be keeping an eye out for organic pineapple from Nicaraguan source and look forward to visiting again to Nicaragua.
HASS AVOCADOS CAN BE IMPORTED FROM COLOMBIA TO THE USA
On August 13th, 2017, Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States of America announced that the U.S. will begin permitting Colombian avocados imports.
Here is the information from the USDA:
Many Colombian growers, packers and exporters have come to the realization that the process of phytosanitary certification, will in many cases delay farms 12 months or more to get everything in order and approved. Nonetheless there is strong momentum, and the 2019 avocados congress is being hosted in Colombia.
Despite the obstacles Colombian entrepreneurs are enthusiastic to find solutions, and create a thriving export industry to North America.
Colombian producers have successfully shipped Hass avocados to Europe but accessing a US market that is dominated by Mexico and California for much of the year, may be a more difficult task.
There seems to be a solid window in July to October when Mexico is down, but it is still to be determined how many containers of avocados will be exported from Colombia during this window.
There are diverse growing regions and a strong second flower. This ought to provide a larger range of harvest window, but the main seasons appears to be November to March.
Many are observing Colombia's avocado industry and are looking forward to seeing how this matures. There is an abundance of affordable agriculture real estate with Haas avocado growing conditions in Colombia. There is certainly a potential for further development and output.
Coopeassa is a leading organic cooperative in Costa Rica. It has been in the business of grower organic banana and organic coffee for almost ten years.
In 2016 the company expanded into organic pineapple production.
Since then, I have built a relationship with their executives and team supporting their marketing and sales for the US market.
October 15th is approximately the date of the first harvest for organic pineapple export. As part of the preparation I was asked "what translucency does the buyer want?"
It's a great question, and one that is actually quite common in the pineapple world.
Pineapples from Costa Rica are often shipped for 14 or more days from harvest until the time it reaches its customers in the United States, Canada and Europe.
As such, buyers instruct their packing facilities to "pick green" so that the quality can withstand the travel time.
Many buyers want a ".5-1" color which means it is just starting to sightly break the golden color. The idea is that it will maintain proper bric (sugar) content while maximizing the shelf life.
This is a great chart from Don Edwards at University of California-Davis that clearly explains the difference in pineapple color coding.
If you let the pineapple ripe naturally you can arrive at the deep gold color. This is the other extreme and is not advised by marketers. While this pineapple may taste great, it doesn't hold well and must be eaten rapidly.
Hello everyone, my name is Keith Agoada. I am a co-founder of Producers Market. We've started this blog for our team to share experience and information as it relates to the supply chain of organic and healthy lifestyle.
My job is to manage relationships with farmers, packers, processors and buyers. We are working to develop direct value chain programs in the organic, non-gmo space.
About two to three times per month I get to travel to Latin America to visit their farms and facilities.
I continuously travel to cities and countrysides in Latin America, and communicate regularly with buyers of bulk organic materials.
Over the last three years I started to take photos with my iPhone which I share with friends and family on WhatsApp and Instagram.
I've launched this blog so that I can connect with a larger audience and also to put some more context to the images I capture. Many of the experiences I will be sharing have shaped my personal, professional and spiritual growth.
The photography is certainly amateur, and the writing as well. My creative teammates take more professional photos mostly of farms and food which I will be sharing here also.
I write these blog posts on airplanes, hotel rooms, at my office in Santa Rosa, California or wherever I can get a quiet moment to reflect on my experience.
In August I had the privilege of spending three days in MichoacÃ¡n, Mexico visiting with Leonel Chavez, Owner and CEO of Michoacan Organics an export wholesaler dedicated to organic avocado supply chain and sales to the United States. Leonel is a pioneer in organic avocados in Mexico with more than 20 years experience growing using organic practices. He has also now integrated biodynamic practices for the past six years. He has a unique farming method he calls "Farming for Life." Leonel's 10 brothers and sisters, and mom also grow avocados.
Leonel picked me up late in the evening at the Guadalajara airport, and as usual we stopped for some tacos en route to Uruapan, Mexico. After a few hours of sleep, and a few more hand made tacos and some fresh squeezed orange juice for breakfast, we were ready for our first visit of this trip; to an avocado packing house.
The packing facility was located right outside of downtown Uruapan (the world capital of haas avocado.) We first sat down with the owner to learn about his company history, and their impressive growth over the last 10 years. They now pack for several leading distributors in the US, in addition to a top level retailer, and importers from countries in Europe and Asia.
Although capacity at the facility is limited for much of the year, the owner seemed to know Leonel well, and agreed to make space to pack avocados for the Michoacan Organics brand owned by Leonel, in order to fulfill our buying needs in the US. The packing house consisted of two identical buildings with identical machinery separated by a see through glass wall. Since it was the "low season" on our visit, only one of the buildings was in use.
It was interesting to follow the flow of the avocado movement in the facility from arrival to being fully packed and in the refrigerated area ready for transport. First, avocados arrive packed in reusable plastic crates and enter the facility in the receiving area. The avocados are moved from the quarantine receivables on dollies to a large machine that cleans, and automatically sorts the avocados. Workers manually unload the avocados unto the machine. First there is an automated brush that cleans the avocado, and then they move down the conveyor belt to a sophisticated computer that automatically sorts the avocados by weight and size.
For wholesale distribution in the United States Avocados are generally packed into 25 lb boxes of 32s, 36s, 40s, 48s, 60s, 70s, 84s. The numbers refer to the quantity of avocados in each box. Once weighed, the machined automatically shoots the avocados to a designated area where all the avocados of the same size class are organized. In these designated areas mostly female workers rapidly pack the avocados into the boxes, while simultaneously sorting out first class and second class avocados for each size.
Leonel explained to me the importance of using a stronger, more expensive boxes. If you use a cheaper box that isn't sturdy, sometimes the boxes at the bottom of the pallet can start to break and it can damage the avocados. "Buyers can ask for discounts when this happens."
Following the thorough tour from the packing house owner and sales manager, we sat down once again in the owner's office to talk some more business.
As is common in Michoacan about half of the actual conversation is business, the other half is talking about their families, travel plans, and trends within the avocado market. On very little sleep I drank a black tea, however, Leonel who I am convinced isn't human doesn't drink any form of caffeine, even on a few hours of sleep.
After concluding our business meeting and tour of the packing house, it was time to drive out to our first farm visit with Leonel's mom, Maria.