Organic banana pioneer Carlos Cortes mourned
Carlos Cortes Sr., the grower who commercially introduced organic bananas to the United States in 1974, has died. Mr. Cortes was the father of Mayra Velazquez de León, president and CEO of Organics Unlimited and GROW.
In 1974, Mr. Cortes founded the Mexican-American Fruit Co., better known as MexAm. He began marketing organic bananas, which was an industry first for the U.S. market.
A letter from Mr. Cortes received by his daughter upon his passing encapsulates the way he did business and the teachings he leaves for future generations: “A company without clear values cannot develop a presence in market, even when it has the economic resources to grow. A company that provides goods or services with a priority on human, economic and social values will be the one that best meets its customers’ needs, develops its people and provides the highest return on investment to its shareholders.”
Mr. Cortes’ legacy lives on through Organics Unlimited, America’s leading family-owned commercial organic banana company. His daughter started Organics Unlimited in 2000, and she currently serves as president and CEO along with Cortes’ granddaughter, Daniella Velazquez de León, who is general manager.
“We have lost an icon in the organic banana industry," said Mayra Velazquez de León. "My father, Carlos Cortes Sr., was the pioneer in growing and marketing organic bananas for the United States, which he first started in 1974. He was an engineer by profession and a farmer at heart. Many of you who got to know him know that he was absorbed by the authenticity of life, making everything a learning experience.
"As a legend in organic banana farming, he also paved the way for all who followed in his footsteps," she said. "Many of you might remember the days when organic fertilizers had to be made by hand with natural ingredients, when wooden crates were used to pack the fruit and when watching his memorable polka dot truck driving by meant that organic bananas were being delivered. Back then, it was a time when sustainability was not in a part of the mainstream vocabulary and when farming wild really meant organic, and social responsibility meant taking care of every single employee because they were also considered family.
"After 96 years of being with us, we have lost a father, a friend and a role model," she said. "My dad will be remembered by those who knew him for his avid storytelling, which always left listeners with a valuable life lesson. His legacy now lives on through his contributions to a better, more sustainable food system and through four generations of family banana growers that continue his visionary work.”
“We will remember what he taught us about organic farming: the importance of caring for our land, the history and tradition that we carry on, and the immensity of what is possible when a group of like-minded, values-based pioneers work together," said Daniella Velazquez de León.
"Through the GROW Fund, our aim is to give as many children in our rural, growing communities the same opportunity my grandfather had, but that so many children do not have access to — that of an education," she said. "It is thanks to his education that my grandfather was able to broaden his horizons, create what he did and, ultimately, give back to his community.”
To honor the memory of Mr. Cortes, the Organics Unlimited GROW Fund at the International Community Foundation will launch a scholarship in his name starting with the 2022-23 academic year. This scholarship will benefit university graduates from Mexico seeking a master’s degree, preferably in agronomy or a related field. Additional scholarship details will be forthcoming.