Efficiency a key part of success at Wholesum Family Farms
AMADO, AZ – Wholesum Family Farms has garnered a reputation as a socially conscious producer of greenhouse vegetables. In fact, it just recently celebrated its 10th anniversary as a Fair Trade grower.
But at the heart of its success is the focus on producing its crops in the most efficient manner possible.
Here in Southern Arizona, up the road from Nogales on the way to Tucson, the company maintains its headquarters facility, which includes 24 acres under glass. And those four greenhouses are models of high-tech efficiency, from the materials used in the facility construction to the practices the company employs to bring product to market.
“We need to be extremely efficient in order to compete with growers in Mexico,” said Edgardo Torres, head grower for Wholesum and a 19-year veteran of the company.
Regarding the construction of the greenhouses in Amado, Torres said the structures utilize Ultra Clima greenhouse technology, which focuses on proper ventilation, water circulation and conservation, and minimal CO2 emissions to help maximize yield.
“We have been using this technology here since 2010, and it is considered the highest greenhouse technology in the world,” said Torres. “The greenhouses are very well insulated, which helps maintain ideal temperatures and produce the best products.”
Torres said the amount of light in a greenhouse dictates the ideal temperature, and this will vary with the season. In the summer months when there is more light, Wholesum looks to maintain 22 degrees Celsius whereas as in the winter months when there is less light, the ideal temperature is 19 degrees Celsius.
“We double our production in the summer and harvest three times per week, compared to the winter when we harvest twice per week,” he said. “Maintaining the ideal temperature also helps us achieve the proper sizing and best quality.”
Efficiency also extends to other areas of production, such as pollination and fertilization.
“We use bumble bees as natural pollinators for our plants,” said Torres, “and we’ll have 40-50 boxes of bees per six-acre greenhouse. We also use IPM for pest prevention, and of course we use only organic fertilizers, so those measures allow us to maintain our organic certification.”
Finally, Torres said Wholesum realizes a high degree of efficiency by properly training and treating its workers.
“Our workers receive continual training and opportunities to advance to keep them happy and motivated,” he said. “This helps us to maintain the best quality product and highest level of production.”
Joanna Jaramillo, marketing manager, said Wholesum ultimately seeks to provide consistency with its products, which is something customers demand.
“Our customers want reliability and consistency, and we are able to provide that with the high-tech greenhouses we have,” she said. “This is a high-investment business, and the only way to be successful is to be consistent.”
At the Amado facility, Torres said 60 percent of what is produced is TOV, with around 30 percent Beefsteaks and the rest a mix of a cocktail variety called Valentino and some heirloom tomatoes.
“The heirloom program is currently a small program but something we are looking to grow,” said Jaramillo. “There is a big push for local product, and the heirlooms fit that. And we are very excited about our Valentino cocktail tomatoes.
It’s currently a small program, but it is one of our best varieties for flavor and shelf-life.”
Jaramillo added that consistency in Wholesum’s product offerings is greatly aided by the company’s high worker retention rate.
“We take pride in treating our workers well, and in fact we just recently celebrated our workers for reaching milestone anniversaries,” she said. “We want to build long-term relationships with our workers, and to do that we treat them well by paying a living wage and offering a chance for advancement at the company. A stable workforce is a key component to our success as a company.”