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WP Rawl: From feeding WW2 troops to the front line of pandemic

wprawlanniversaryOn Jan. 25, WP Rawl’s celebrated its 95th anniversary. It was also on that January date in 1925 when founders Walter and Ernestine Rawl were married.

“On that very same day, the newlyweds planted their first crop of cabbage,” said Ashley Rawl, vice president of sales, marketing and product development for the company. “That historic planting to us marked the beginning of the Walter P. Rawl farm in Gilbert, SC.”

The couple started canning in their home and eventually moved to a full production line running the canning operation 24 hours a day. During World War II, their products were used to feed the troops.   Over the years, the company migrated to the fresh business, and grew an array of fresh fruits and vegetables. Rawl said the firm’s production of peaches and sweet potatoes in the 1950s to the 1970s were its signature crops and put WP Rawl on the map.

In 1999, the firm started processing fresh southern leafy greens in South Carolina and eventually opened up seasonal operations in Florida (November-April) and Pennsylvania (June-September). The company’s transportation fleet grew with the business and now numbers 85 trucks.

The company has a history of innovation and adaptation, and this year it has added two new year-round commodities into its product portfolio: cabbage and bok choy. It also is involved in an ongoing project to improve its water-cooling system for its Dipper — where product comes in from the field and is immediately cooled. A more efficient process is being developed.

“Once product is harvested and delivered to our facility in Pelion, SC, it will be cooled to 34 degrees,” Rawl said. “We are also implementing a new warehouse management system that will add enhanced traceability, real-time visibility of inventory, better customer service, efficient order picking, loading and shipping.”

In addition, WP Rawl expanded the production of its bagged leafy greens to include its facility located in Bunnell, FL. In late-April, the company was in the process of transitioning its production from its Florida fields to its South Carolina acreage, and was anticipating an excellent season. “Thankfully, we have not seen any weather events to affect our crops this year,” Rawl said.

Today, the company specializes in both conventional and organic greens in value-added packaging. It also offers a wide range of products in bulk from fresh herbs to its most popular greens as well as sweet corn, onions, leeks and squash.

The company is a family farm with nine family members currently working in the operation. Family is very important to the success of WP Rawl and the company recognizes that with its structure. The senior members of the Rawl family are part of the company’s leadership team, along with its senior directors. They meet each week to talk about business and make decisions as needed. Rawl compared the leadership team to a board of directors.

WP Rawl has formalized the entry into the business by new family members with a defined program. “We have a specific training program focused upon bringing newly graduated family members into the company,” said Ashley Rawl. “Through the program, they gain exposure and day-to-day knowledge of all departments within the company.”

Currently two fourth-generation Rawl family members have completed the program.

Of course, on everyone’s mind this year is the new coronavirus and how it is impacting the nation as well as South Carolina’s corner. “Our team of patriots have been the warriors on the front lines helping us feed our nation in this time of need,” Rawl said. “Many have stepped up to work extra hours and volunteered for extra shifts as our sales increased significantly in March. We have adjusted or implemented new policies and procedures to ensure our team members safety. Their safety remains our top priority.”

He added that presently the company has not had to adjust or reduce its acreage.

One more side note: before Covid-10 was a concern, WP Rawl did have the opportunity to both celebrate its 95th anniversary and honor its colleagues by hosting more than 200 employees, vendors and other guests at EdVenture Children’s Museum in Columbia, SC. The museum is home to a new farm exhibit, sponsored by WP Rawl, where children learn how fresh vegetables go from a local farm through grocery stores to their tables.

Seen in the photo above are Walter and Ernestine Rawl

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