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WP Rawl is growing greens, innovation and community pride

When it comes to leafy greens, Walter P. Rawl and Sons Inc. has a 94-year-old history to balance, with family members continuing to grow and manage the $110-plus-million company through years of customer commitment, love of the land and an innovative eye to current and future markets.

Starting out with cabbage, newlyweds Walter and Ernestine Rawl began what would become a legacy growing collards, lettuces, turnips, herbs, parsley and kale. They now have distribution centers in Florida, Mississippi and South Carolina as well as production fields in the same states, plus Pennsylvania.

57599705 2376969719183312 3299858181127333684 n The company employs roughly 900 people and has a fleet of 75 trucks, shipping from Florida to Maine and from Texas to Iowa under the Nature’s Green brand.

Diversification and changing with demand have been successful for the Pelion, SC-based company, which currently has 12 family members in leadership roles, according to company spokeswoman Christine Jackson.

The business transitioned from a small truck crop farm, growing mostly tomatoes, okra, corn, asparagus and peaches into a cannery. In the 1970s, the farm began phasing out the peach/cannery business and began concentrating on growing conventional leafy greens. The company also grows corn, beets, green onions and squash.

In 2012 the company began production of organic leafy greens, and today it supports a network of educational resources that involve dieticians and nutrition for its customers.

Its organic greens line is USDA certified, coming in both packages and bulk.

The company recently moved to more convenient packaging for individual buyers — bags with the greens triple washed, in handy sizes and filled with ready-to-cook vegetables. They also feature nutritional value and new colors.

The start of the 2019 season was a bit tough on the farm, Jackson said, with a lot of rain to stunt some of the plants, but recovery was eased by weeks of good weather in the last few months, with plenty of sunshine and just the right amounts of rain.

Leafy greens statewide are looking good right now, said Katie Pfeiffer of the S.C. Department of Agriculture, and the way the weather is shaping up quality and quantity should be good for growers like WP Rawl.

“As the leafy greens guide in the produce industry, we pride ourselves in continuing to invest in the leafy greens category by staying in tune with trends,” said Ashley Rawl, vice president of sales, marketing and product development. With a fresh new look and creative modern design, we are excited to draw in new consumers to the leafy greens category.”

The new packaging was introduced at the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure, March 7-9, in Orlando. The company’s collard, kale, mustard, turnip and greens blend packages showcase an outline of each variety’s leaf.

This year the company has also launched a new campaign, targeting the full range of consumers, with attention to baby boomers and millennials.

Farm Fresh Greens is a year-long campaign designed to help shoppers with different lifestyles incorporate leafy greens into their diets, and educate consumers where produce is grown.

The company’s intent is to give a behind-the-scene’s look from planting to shelf, Rawl said. “Produce doesn’t magically show up on retail shelves, and we are excited share this educational journey with our consumers,” she added.

“WP Rawl’s vision is to make the lives touched by our company better by providing a product that is beneficial to life, a culture that strengthens individuals, and an organization that supports our communities,” Jackson said. “We believe that success, just like growing a strong crop, is most likely to be achieved with the right environmental factors and inputs. Our business is a product of the communities in which we operate (our environment), and we strive to support the individuals and organizations that make up the root system of those communities. We are driven to thank, help, educate, feed, and contribute financially to those in need.”

Some of the community giving the company does includes:

• Supporting the Harvest Hope Food Bank with in-kind donations and by serving on the board of directors.

• Conducting an annual health and safety fair for all of employees and family members to provide health screenings, health education and child safety practices.

• Supporting youth development through internships and job co-ops with local high school and university students.

• Partnering with local schools for events such as Career Day and farm to school programs by educating and promoting healthy eating.