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Wholesum focuses on customer experience with tomato offerings

By
John Groh

Finding a way to stand out from the competition is not always easy, but Wholesum Family Farms manages to do it consistently by keeping the focus squarely on its customers.

“We prioritize the customer experience with our tomatoes,” said Joanna Jaramillo, marketing manager for the greenhouse grower, based in Amado, AZ. “We time our harvest to provide the best possible flavor. And we offer a guaranteed minimum 10-day shelf life for our heirloom varieties.”

Speaking of the heirlooms, Jaramillo said Wholesum has increased production this year due to higher demand. While the farm site still has 24 acres in total production, more space has been allocated to the heirlooms, which include red, yellow and brown/purple tomatoes, each with its own flavor profile.

“The heirlooms require a lot of attention and can be difficult to grow,” said Jose Covarrubias, general manager at Wholesum. “The plants are more sensitive, require more labor and can be damaged during the harvest process. But by growing them indoors, we can achieve the best quality and best flavor.”

Jaramillo added that by growing indoors, Wholesum is able to extend the growing season for its heirlooms to nearly year-round.

“Field-grown heirlooms usually have a five-month growing season, but by growing them in a controlled environment we have perfect growing conditions, and plants will produce for 11 months,” she said.

Those “perfect” growing conditions are well planned by the company, according to Covarrubias, who detailed some of the controls Wholesum has in place to maintain a pristine environment for the tomatoes.

First, workers and visitors alike are required to wear protective clothing, such as hair nets, boots and gloves, and must pass through washing stations prior to entering the facility. Should any potentially harmful pests, such as red spider mites or white flies, make it through, Wholesum has an integrated pest management system that uses beneficial insects to eliminate the invaders. Also, Wholesum maintains bumblebee hives inside the greenhouses to act as natural pollinators for the tomato flowers.

“We want 100 percent of the flowers visited by bumblebees at least once,” said Covarrubias. “Without pollination, there would be no seeds in the tomatoes and they would be hollow. So the bees are the key to having flavorful tomatoes.”

Another way that Wholesum optimizes production is with its advanced greenhouse technology. Covarrubias said special screens are in place to moderate the intensity of the sun and give off diffused sunlight, which reduces the stress on the plants and results in juicy tomatoes with high flavor. He also said that irrigation is carefully managed, and that water is pasteurized and enhanced with oxygen before being recirculated for repeated use, in a nod toward sustainability.

Covarrubias said Wholesum enjoys a stable work force, with many employees having worked for years at the company. He added that since Wholesum maintains year-round operations, it is easier to retain employees, who do not have to look elsewhere for seasonal work.

Jaramillo said employee retention is further supported by the fact that Wholesum participates in the Fair Trade program, which benefits the workers. “We were the first Fair Trade-certified farm in the U.S. starting in 2016,” she said.

As part of the Fair Trade program, product sells for a premium and the proceeds benefit a variety of projects that help the worker community. She said one recent project improved the transportation for workers getting to and from work.

“The needs of the workers in Mexico are much different from the needs of the workers here, but at the end of the day we want to empower the community,” said Covarrubias.

John Groh

John Groh

About John Groh  |  email

John Groh graduated from the University of San Diego in 1989 with a bachelors of arts degree in English. Following a brief stint as a sportswriter covering the New York Giants football team, he joined The Produce News in 1995 as an assistant editor and worked his way up the ranks, becoming publisher in 2006. He and his wife, Mary Anne, live in northern New Jersey in the suburbs of New York City.

 

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