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Bassetti’s apply produce heritage to flourish in Texas

edinburg, tx — In an uncharacteristic industry twist, a family with deep roots in one growing area has become a leader in another.

Jimmy Bassetti and his wife, Diane Bassetti, both grew up in produce in Vineland, NJ. Diane’s father was the late Ralph Dauito, Jr., of Ralph Dauito and Sons in Vineland. Bassetti’s produce background included working in his family’s Vineland produce brokerage, R&B Produce, which was run by his father, Jim (The Bear) Bassetti, Sr. J&D’s “Little Bear” brand is named for Jimmy and Diane’s son, James Bassetti, III.

The Bear passed away in 1996.

Since 1984 the Bassetti’s have operated J & D Produce Inc. in Edinburgh, TX. His Texas peers credit Jimmy Bassetti for being the mastermind of the highly successful Viva Fresh expo, which promotes Texas, Southwestern U.S. and Mexican production. Viva Fresh has been successful from its initial presentation four years ago.

“J&D” is named for Jimmy and Diane. Bassetti gives his wife full credit for “working side by side with me” in launching J&D and working 20-hour days to develop their firm. After being a buying broker for two years, J&D bought its first packinghouse in 1987, which is the year Little Bear was born. Steven Bassetti was born in 1988. The babies were taken to work with their parents. Their third child, Danielle Bassetti, is now attending TCU in Ft. Worth.

In Texas, “We do the majority of our production in the time period from the beginning of November to mid-June,” said Jimmy, who is the company president.

In Texas, “Our climate and soils provide some of the sweetest fruit and some of the sweetest vegetables in the country.” In the wintertime, the Bassetti’s send “care packages” of sweet Texas produce to family in Vineland.  

J&D grows 6,000 acres of vegetables, with farms scattered in the Rio Grande Valley. The wide range “enables us to be spread out and have a more consistent supply.” Sixty percent of the farmland is owned by J&D. Otherwise, the firm works with outside growers. The growers are all food-safety certified. “That is a lot of work but it’s got to be done,” Bassetti said.

Today, J&D Produce ships from New Jersey in the April-November timeframe, which very nicely complements the timing of South Texas wintertime deal. J&D generally ships the same items from the two production areas. These include HoneySweet-brand sweet onions, cabbages, a long list of wet veg, hot house bell peppers, hot peppers, melons and miscellaneous other products like jicama and tomatillo.

J&D’s sweet onion deal runs for 12 months, starting in South Texas, then moving to Deming, NM; then to Peru and Tampico, Mexico before returning to Texas. All locations grow the same onion variety to give customers a consistently sweet onion.

Almost since its creation, J&D has been involved in Mexican production, primarily watermelons. Bassetti noted, “We are not heavily vested in Mexico. But it plays a role in our operation, especially for watermelons. We grow there what we can’t grow here.”

Colima is the primary watermelon production state. The firm is also involved in Saltillo, Chiapas and Leon.

The firm also handles Mexican limes year-round and, from March to August, Mexican mangos. J&D ships papayas on a year-round basis, and from September to March, imports mangos from Brazil, Peru and Ecuador into the Philadelphia seaport.

Each spring J&D starts distributing Mexican mangos through Texas in May, winding up in Los Mochis in August. He said the promotion of mango ripening programs “is definitely helping” mango sales.

Bassetti noted, “I have seen plenty of changes over the years in this valley. A grower or grower-shipper either evolves or evaporates. The marketplace is changing, which is why we need to evolve.”