Dec 16, 2014
JV Farms Organic recycling efforts spread companywide

The CEO of a large western U.S. vegetable operation was front and center when it came time to rally companywide support for stronger recycling and sustainability efforts.

JV Farms Organic, based in Soledad, California, has launched a revised recycling program to improve its previous systems and ensure the company is being the “best stewards of the land possible.”

“JV Farms Organic, as well as our whole operation under JV Smith Companies, takes deep pride in being good stewards of the land. We recognize our role to grow healthy, fresh produce for the country with the least impact possible on the land that is so good for us,” said CEO Vic Smith.

JV Farms Organic grows carrots, romaine lettuce, peas, herbs, spinach, kale, arugula and spring mix.

Smith attended one of the company’s recycling trainings to help put emphasis on the sustainability priorities he touts for the organization’s farming, packing and cooling operations, which includes 15,000 acres of vegetable production annually.

“To me, it’s a lifestyle,” said Vic, who, with his father, John B. Smith, founded JV Smith Farms in 1988. JV Farms Organic was initiated in 2012. His father started Skyview Cooling in Yuma, Arizona, in 1970.

The company now has growing operations in California, Arizona, Colorado and northern Mexico.

The goals of the new program – initiated at JV Farms Organic but with aspects of the sustainability effort reaching throughout the company’s “significant amount of conventional” cropping systems – are multifaceted, Smith said.

The efforts include reducing waste through increased recycling; improving environmental impact by reducing recyclable waste going to the landfill; reviewing and assessing the company’s waste audit; educating personnel about what is recyclable (both at home and on the farm); partnering with the Salinas Solid Waste Authority to highlight future household waste events; and listening to employee input regarding improvement.

Interactive, hands-on training opportunities have been scheduled. Employees are being educated on items on the farm that are recyclable, including plastic pallet wrap, pallet tape, paper, cardboard boxes, plastic sprinkler heads, water and drink bottles, aluminum cans, glass bottles and field flags.

JV Smith Organic employees also segregate items such as plastic seed and fertilizer bags and reusable plastic containers (RPCs) to return to the distributors for reuse.

“The biggest part I like about organic is it’s a longer-term approach to our food supply, done in a very sustainable manner,” Smith said. “If we all get together to look at recycling and do training to get better knowledge and understanding, collectively it will make a difference.”

He said California is well ahead of Arizona in terms of sustainability efforts, but he hopes to see that state catch up quickly.

“We’re working on getting what we’re learning in California transferred to Arizona and throughout northern Mexico,” Smith said. “I’d like to see it all operating under the same holistic approach.”

He used a medical analogy that requires a “more holistic approach to our lifestyle, good diet and nutrition. With organic farming, we’re looking at the land and developing the soil with more sustainable approaches with a longer-term approach. If you manage the soil, you don’t really need herbicides. We just need to figure out why we’re getting weed seeds in the field and stop all the chemicals.

“We want the ranch to be there and be productive for a long time,” he said. “Rather than looking at it year to year or even a three-year cycle, we need to look at things from a five-, 10-, 15-year perspective. To be good at organic, you have to look at a five- to 20-year approach. Conventionally, we can change some strategies, also.”

Smith said the company recognized some financial benefits by identifying bags of chicken pellets used for fertilizer that were stronger than others on the market, so they would not have to be disposed of so frequently if they were torn prematurely. And, rather than dispose of them when they were empty, they were recycled.

“In transporting the fertilizer, we were saving on the number of one-time bags,” he said. “By the time we added it up and saw the use one year at this particular farm, conserving this much going into landfill, we’re going to have a fairly substantial savings.

“It’s just about making yourself aware of where the opportunities are,” he said. “With that kind of training and knowledge with the people that are literally in the field and trenches, they come back and reorganize packaging and harvest supplies, and learning from that.”

He said the process “gives us an entry to work with our supplier or another one to make better recyclable containers.”

“I get excited about it. The more I learn, the more we actually have employees in different operations putting recycling containers to good use.”

Smith has been pleased with his employees’ acceptance of the more focused recycling approach, after initially being “a bit skeptical” about the idea.

“I was so impressed and excited about the group of employees that sat around in an old shop, did training with people who were monitoring and training them. Working with a local waste management group to understand what should be recycled also helped.”

He said employees were adaptable to the process and realized “innately, we should be doing this. It just takes a little bit of training and understanding. It’s something I feel very passionate about. It becomes contagious when people get actively involved in something. People get impacted and follow along. Once they get into the habit, instead of throwing away a plastic bottle, they will walk another 10 feet” to use a recycling bin.

Smith, who was recently elected chairman of the Western Growers board of directors, said he wouldn’t attempt to force the sustainability concept on others within the industry, “but I would advocate it anywhere I’m asked. If someone comes to us by attraction, we will share everything we do. We are an open book. To a certain degree, it’s a marketing factor.”

Smith credited Measure to Improve, a Salinas, California-based consulting firm that worked with his company to put together the evaluation and training sessions, with the initiative’s success.

“For a program like this to be successful, it has to start with the leadership,” said Nikki Rodoni, founder of Measure to Improve, which she operates with Sandy Connolly. “Not only does Vic Smith support this initiative, but he took time to participate in the recycling training and learn with the staff.”

Rodoni said Israel Morales, co-owner and general manager of JV Farms Organic, also is “a long-time advocate of reducing, reusing and recycling and leads by example.”

Morales has more than 40 years experience growing in the Salinas area.

“A companywide program typically takes time for everyone to change habits,” Rodoni said. “For example, instead of throwing materials away in the garbage that can be recycled, they take time to put them in the recycling receptacle. This company has made impressive progress in just a short time to embrace the program. We have been very impressed with their efforts and can’t wait to see how much they progress over the next year. To see such an effort is truly inspirational.”

To learn more about JV Farms Organic, go here. To learn more about JV Smith Companies, go here.

Gary Pullano

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