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Paul DiMare: Florida’s Mr. Tomato was Boston born and bred

By
Tim Linden

Though Paul J. DiMare Sr. started his produce career at the family’s wholesale operation in Boston, he made his biggest mark in the Florida tomato industry, earning the nickname Mr. Tomato along the way.

PaulDiMare was born on April 14, 1941, in Boston, destined to join the family business that had been started 13 years earlier by his father, Anthony, and his two uncles, Dominic and Joseph. The trio started with a pushcart business in the streets of Boston but quickly grew into a repacking and wholesale operation adjacent to the Boston Terminal Market.

DiMare worked in the business as a teenager along with his cousins and other family members. After high school, he attended Georgetown University in Washington, DC, but didn’t stay very long. In an interview years ago with a Florida newspaper, he told the reporter that he was “bored” at college and wanted to start working. Hence, he headed back to Boston.

Tony DiMare, Paul’s son and the current president of DiMare Fresh (succeeding his father one year ago), said the elder DiMare officially began his produce career after returning from college. He ran the repacking facility in Boston but had a desire to come to Florida and rejuvenate the family’s Florida tomato production business.

In the 1950s, the three original DiMare brothers had expanded their Boston tomato business by launching growing operations in California and Florida. Tom DiMare, the current president of DiMare California and son of Dominic, revealed that it was in the 1950s that Dominic began splitting his time between Boston and California, running the West Coast business. At about the same time, Joseph DiMare moved to Florida and developed that operation. Tragically, Joseph was murdered in 1961, which caused the Florida business to falter.

In 1964, at the young age of 23, Paul DiMare and his uncle Dominic went to Florida and bought a packinghouse. DiMare Inc. began growing and shipping its own Florida tomatoes once again. Eventually, the Florida operation expanded elsewhere and was operated under the DiMare Fresh title with Paul as its president. “Paul was an innovator,” Tom DiMare said of his late first cousin. “He pioneered drip irrigation in south Florida. A lot of people take credit for that, but he was the first to do it on a large scale.”

Paul DiMare, Lynn Buoniconti, Swanee DiMare, Nick Buoniconti, Christian Slater and Brittany Lopez Slater at an event supporting  The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis.
Paul DiMare, Lynn Buoniconti, Swanee DiMare, Nick Buoniconti,
Christian Slater and Brittany Lopez Slater at an event supporting 
The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis.

Initially, Paul DiMare split his time between Florida and Boston, but eventually stayed in Florida on a full time basis, moving south with his  family in 1970, according to son Tony.

Tom said the Florida production grew to about 5,000 acres and was the largest tomato growing operation in the country.

It was in this time that Paul DiMare earned the nickname Mr. Tomato.  Tony said his father had his fingers in all aspects of the business, but he described himself as a farmer above all else and was always available to help other growers with the knowledge he had accumulated.

Tom DiMare said his cousin “was a very dynamic individual and very intelligent.” The two cousins were only about six months apart in age and grew up together working in the Boston wholesale operation in the summers beginning when they were about 12 years old. While the DiMare companies in California, Florida and Boston operated autonomously, at the end of the day Tom said they were all one company under the DiMare Inc. corporate name. The principals would meet in Boston at least once a year and hold quarterly board meetings as well as monthly Zoom meetings. “Most of the time the decision making (by the individual entities) is autonomous as this is a very fast-paced business, but we strategize and coordinate our efforts as well as keep everyone informed,” said Tom.

Tony said Paul DiMare was active until the end and wanted to be involved in every decision under his purview. Tom DiMare said that was no surprise. “In this family, we all retire into the pine box,” he quipped, adding that that philosophy is not out of necessity but just a way of life. “We are not lacking talent (within the family) and we will continue to adapt to the changes in the industry.”

Tony revealed that his father was well recognized for his contributions to the industry and beyond. “He received many accolades over the years,” said Tony. “He was Florida Farmer of the Year; he was in the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame and was Miami-Dade County Farmer of the Year. He had a tremendous passion for the business, and everyone respected him and his knowledge. In fact, everyone said he was the E.F. Hutton of the tomato business… when he spoke, people listened.”

Tony said one thing his father liked railing about was the North American Free Trade Agreement. “He went to his grave hating NAFTA. He was a staunch free trade supporter, but he said NAFTA was the worst thing that ever happened to this country… and he would give you a long list of reasons.”

According to his son, Paul DiMare Sr. often testified before the U.S. Congress about the effects of NAFTA and would offer his opinions on trade policy at the drop of a hat. “He thought we got the short end of the stick and said that NAFTA cost the country many, many jobs.”

He was also passionate about improving the tomato business from the ground up. Besides drip irrigation, Tony said his father was the first to try plastic mulch and he was instrumental in reducing the standard box weight from 40 to 30 pounds and then down to 25 pounds.

In addition to his accomplishments in agriculture, DiMare was one of the University of Miami’s most generous philanthropists. He supported many key initiatives at the school, from athletics and the arts to business, scientific research and medical education. DiMare had served on the University’s board of trustees since 2004.

At the time of DiMare’s death, University of Miami President Julio Frenk said: “One of our University’s most ardent supporters, Paul lived a life worth emulating, marked by generosity, leadership and a gregarious spirit that made him unforgettable. He poured his heart into his family, his community and his every endeavor. We have been fortunate to know him personally and we mourn the loss of this great man.”

Tony DiMare said his father loved sports and was devoted to both the Miami Dolphins and the University of Miami teams. In fact, DiMare’s youngest son, Gino DiMare, played college baseball at Miami and is the current head coach of the baseball team. He has been on the staff for almost all of the past two decades.

DiMare was also honored as a community leader and as a responsible employer. He received the Martin Luther King Jr. award from the Homestead and Florida City Human Relations Board and was named Outstanding Agricultural Employer by the Mexican American Council in Homestead, FL. He was inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2005 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southeast Produce Council. He received many other local and national honors, including the American Red Cross Humanitarian of the Year award in 2007 and the national Ellis Island Award in 2014.

DiMare is survived by his wife, Swanee, sons Anthony (Tony), Paul DiMare Jr., Scott and Gino, and stepson Jim Husk, along with many other DiMare family relatives.

Top photo: Paul DiMare and wife, Swanee, on the Miami City Ballet red carpet.

Tim Linden

Tim Linden

About Tim Linden  |  email

Tim Linden grew up in a produce family as both his father and grandfather spent their business careers on the wholesale terminal markets in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Tim graduated from San Diego State University in 1974 with a degree in journalism. Shortly thereafter he began his career at The Packer where he stayed for eight years, leaving in 1983 to join Western Growers as editor of its monthly magazine. In 1986, Tim launched Champ Publishing as an agricultural publishing specialty company.

Today he is a contract publisher for several trade associations and writes extensively on all aspects of the produce business. He began writing for The Produce News in 1997, and currently wears the title of Editor at Large.

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