The growing market for organic produce often collides head-on with a glaring reality – many consumers have no idea which items are in season, are unwilling to forgo off-season items such as strawberries in December, and don’t understand the limitations on supply and variety of local produce.
Enter companies like San Francisco-based Pacific Organic Produce, which pursue global partnerships for a year-round supply of organic vegetables and fruits. To address seasonality, Pacific Organic works with organic growers in Latin America and New Zealand for year-round availability of core items such as apples and citrus.
Pacific Organic founder Greg Holzman is particularly proud of the company’s efforts to meet demand for one of today’s vegetable superstars – Brussels sprouts. To help overcome organic pest issues which can effect production of Brussel sprouts, Holzman worked with an international grower to help remedy the issue.
“A grower with our partner Mexus Produce believed it could grow Brussels sprouts year-round and came to us with a crop proposal. We decided to work with them because last season had very few organic options and demand was strong, ’Holzman said. “We started planning in August and planting in September for a main harvest in January, and we are still harvesting for packing into value-added retail packs.”
Pacific Organic continues to pursue other partnerships across the globe to expand its product line. “We started growing mini watermelons this winter, which we have since replanted, and we will continue to offer them almost-year round,” said Holzman. “We also are about to harvest our first-ever crop of sweet onions grown in Baja to go along with our other three varieties of onions – red, white and yellow.”
Holzman said organic growers outside of the United States must meet the same USDA growing, packing, and shipping standards that are required for US growers. He added personal relationships between Pacific Organic field representatives and grower partners help ensure compliance. “We attribute much of our success to long-standing relationships with a majority of the growers we work with,” Holzman said.
Not all vegetables and fruits are easy to grow organically in the US or in other countries and climates. “Jicama, which we started to grow last year, is very difficult to grow organically,” Holzman said. “Labor costs are higher for weeding and we cannot go in and spray chemicals to combat pests and diseases. The price difference between organic and conventional is so drastic that many retailers do not want to make the switch.” He adds consumers might be more willing to pay the price difference for organic fruits and vegetables, if they knew more about the difference in farming methods of conventional and organic fresh produce.
Allen Bernklau, Senior Commodity Development and Sales Specialist, Pacific Organic Produce