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Northampton Growers looks forward to upcoming Florida deal

By
Keith Loria

As the calendar was about to turn to November, W. Calvert Cullen IV, president of Northampton Growers Produce, reflected on 2020 and was grateful that his company was able to rely on its team and operations to stay going during the pandemic.

“Luckily for us we were considered essential, so everyone has been working every day just like normal, and we’ve been continuing on just like before,” Cullen said.

Since its beginnings in 1959, Northampton Growers has aimed to meet the needs of chain stores, wholesale and terminal markets on the Eastern Shore, becoming one of the largest growers, packers and shippers operating from Cheriton on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Naturally, 2020 was something of a challenge due to what the country was facing.

“We’ve seen our biggest drop in the foodservice sector, as that side of the business has been virtually shut down,” Cullen said. “Hopefully some of them will be able to weather it all and come back when this is all over.”

Thankfully, the federal government’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program has helped pick up a little bit of the slack. He shared that it’s not 100 percent, but enough to get by. Meanwhile, retail business has been steady and on par with historic numbers.

Northampton Growers also has operations in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Michigan. The winter deal comes from Florida; spring is from Georgia and North Carolina; summer is for Michigan produce; and the fall is supplied by all.

The company’s line consists of green, red, Savoy and Napa cabbage, Bell and specialty peppers, zucchini and squash, green, wax and flat beans, cucumbers and pickles, leafy greens, purple and white eggplant, yellow, white and colored corn and a wide variety of hard squashes.

“Through the use of packing lines in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, we have an ability to ensure a products freshness as well as convenience of transportation,” Cullen said.

The company first started growing in Florida in 1992, and currently grows in Okeechobee and also around the Plant City area.

“Okeechobee has this dark, organic soil which is good for our cabbage,” Cullen said. “The other land is good for peppers and squash because it’s more of a sandy-type loom.”

As long-time growers in Florida, the company understands the challenges that can come with the weather, but 2020’s crops have not been too impacted by bad weather with no major hurricanes. Cullen cites Hurricane Florence in September of 2018 and Hurricane Michael the following month — both which hurt crops in both Florida and Georgia — as reminders of how devastating weather can be.

Besides from a little wetness, 2020’s weather has been ok.

“Some things are going to be a little late with plantings but only about a week or so, and then we have others like squash and cucumbers that are going to be a little early,” he said. “We don’t see anything adverse and project a pretty good season.”

Because of COVID-19, the company made the decision to stay the course with the same size crop production for 2020, with Cullen saying, “it’s not the time to be increasing anything.”

“We feel like we supply an outstanding product with No. 1 service to back it up,” Cullen said. “We look forward to a good Florida deal this year.”

While Owen Margolis started with the company in sales earlier in the year, and he’s been a valuable member of the team according to Cullen, the pandemic has kept Northampton from adding any other team members this summer or fall.

Cullen hopes 2021 will find things getting better quicker than some expect and promises Northampton Growers will continue doing its part to bring food to those who need it.

 

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