‘Watermelon Fuels Athletes’ at Cooper River Bridge Run

CHARLESTON, SC — They set up in the predawn darkness at 5 a.m. and 41 degrees. After the starter’s pistol went off at 8 a.m., they handed out 33,600 cups of watermelon chunks to a steady stream of runners and spectators at the 38th annual Cooper River Bridge Run, a 10K run and walk event held March 28. At around noon, as the last of the walkers streamed past the finish line, they gave out their last watermelon cups under signs proclaiming, “Watermelon Fuels Athletes.”

The race was won by Dominic Ondoro of Kenya. Women’s winner was Cynthia Limo of Kenya. Each won first-place checks of $10,000.

“It was a great event, and we gave away all we had,” said Matt Cornwell, executive director of the South Carolina Watermelon Association, which sponsored the stand that gave out thousands of watermelon cups to promote the fruit as a sports booster. “We had 20 people working the stand, including board members and eight watermelon queens. The runners and spectators had a great response to the watermelon. They loved it.”   

National Watermelon Queen Emily Brown of Vincennes, IN, North Carolina Watermelon Queen Carmen Honeycutt of Benson and South Carolina Watermelon Queen Sydney Ford of Gaffney were among eight watermelon queens handing out cups of cubed watermelon. Runners were dressed as comic book characters like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.

“We had the Ninja Turtles and one guy dressed like a queen with strategically placed fruit,” Cornwell noted.

Brown, the national queen, was working here last year as her state queen. “I’m a nursing student at Vincennes University,” she said, “so I know about the health benefits of watermelon. It’s 92 percent water, so great for rehydration of athletes. And a good source of potassium and vitamin C.”

At a March 27 pre-race press briefing, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and Bridge Run founder Marcus Newberry recalled that the Bridge Run’s original intent was to encourage local residents to adopt healthier lifestyles.

TransFresh gaining traction with blueberry solution

After much research and experimentation, TransFresh Corp., based in Salinas, CA, has found that its new Tectrol Storage Solutions for fresh blueberries has gained traction from the buyer and shipper communities, and is offering extended shelf life for blueberries.

TransFresh Vice President Rich Macleod said the system was introduced last year, but during its first year the company was discovering how it can best be applied and utilized. The solution involves using a pallet bag made of Apio’s patented BreatheWay technology with its breathable membrane in conjunction with an easy-to-use zipper-sealed pallet system that provides 100 percent seal-ability.  

The Tectrol atmosphere is injected into the bag just prior to sealing it, and the breathable membrane enables it to maintain a shelf life-extending presence for as long as it is in storage, whether that be one week or six weeks.

Macleod explained that blueberries, which are a very hardy crop, are often held in storage for marketing purposes. This new pallet-bagging system creates an adjustable breathability to manage just the right rate of oxygen and carbon dioxide transfer required by the fruit. He noted that the TransFresh solution has been very well received by the industry.

Relatively speaking, it does utilize an expensive pallet bag, but Macleod said “the reason we are so excited about it is because it pencils out. It adds great value to everyone” along the supply chain.

He added that it is the combination of the breakthrough sealing process and the breathable membrane that delivers to customers an easy storage solution with minimal impact to the other aspects of their processes.

Macleod said customers have told him they have much more confidence in their storage solutions because they are able to more effectively match supplies with market demand. A pallet-sized atmosphere package such as the Tectrol Storage Solutions gives suppliers the flexibility to market a quality product through the peaks and valleys of the distribution system.

Currently, the system is being used in U.S. warehouses for product originating in the United States. Blueberries are an international commodity with Chile and other points of origin shipping large volumes to the United States, often in controlled atmosphere sea containers. Macleod said TransFresh is currently looking at how this new system can be adapted to that storage and shipping process.

TransFresh was started almost 50 years ago (1966) to help shippers create the perfect atmosphere for shipping perishable product across the country and helping it to arrive in excellent condition.

Over the years, strawberries and raspberries, with the relative high perishability, have formed the core of the company’s business. Though there have been many varietal improvements, especially for strawberries, the perishability of the crop is still an issue for cross-country shipments.

Macleod said the process of bagging the pallet and injecting the modified atmosphere has been improved over the years, which has significantly increased the speed of the operation, but the basic concept has remained the same.

This blueberry solution, however, is somewhat revolutionary as it does combine the atmosphere with superior packaging material and a perfect seal to extend the shelf life of that item.

Southern Specialties Florida blueberry deal going strong

Southern Specialties, a grower, importer, processor and shipper of a variety of specialty products grown in Central America, South America, Mexico, Canada and the United States, is in the midst of a solid Florida blueberry deal that is expected to last through April.

The Pompano Beach, FL-based firm started shipping Florida blueberries in early March in six-ounce clamshells. The varieties it distributes include Farthing, Flicker, Chickadee and Meadowlark.

“This year’s Florida blueberry crop has nice bloom and great flavor,” said Alex Henderson, key account manager for the company. “They will ship well and are an excellent product for Florida companies to showcase in their locally grown programs.”

Once the Florida blueberry season winds down, Southern Specialties will transition to Georgia and the Carolinas as part of its year-round supply of blueberries.

Support of members key to SEPC success

I want to begin this column by thanking all of our members for their continued support. The Southeast Produce Council would not have enjoyed the success it has had over the years without the support of our members and continued sponsorship support. That support allows us to have great venues with record-breaking attendance at every conference and expo.

As I shared at the Southern Exposure luncheon in Orlando, FL, I plan to continue to support and enhance the vision of the council by providing a platform for members to build professional relationships in the produce industry through networking, education and community outreach.

For me, this past conference started Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 24, in a week filled with several meetings, both committee meetings and board of directors meetings.

I had gotten involved over a decade ago on a committee and was very impressed by the professionalism of all team members and their dedication. The committee teams are the vital heartbeat of the council, as this is where a lot of planning — mostly through conference calls — is executed and brought up to the board by each committee chairperson.

I always enjoy getting the committee updates and hearing the progress that the council is making in its efforts to be the premier produce resource in the southeastern United States.

I was thankful that the weather held off and that everyone was able to enjoy the Tom Page Golf Classic on Thursday, Feb. 26. Several of the scores were just incredible. The gala took place on Friday, and I think everyone — including me — really looks forward to this event, as it is always a great party.

Although I don’t remember drawing the short straw, somehow the executive team managed to put me in the trunk of the vintage car that we all rode in on to make our entrance. (If you were there, you understand!)

Our educational committee just keeps finding great topics to bring to our workshops. The “Save the Queen” bee documentary workshop was very informative, and I think everyone walked away with a stronger appreciation for this topic and how vital it is to our industry.

And the “Ask a Retailer” session, moderated by Reggie Griffin of Reggie Griffin Strategies, was a lot of fun. Thanks, Reggie. You were great, and so were the retailers that participated on the panel.

Regarding the expo, I am so glad we have held the size of this event so that people can still get around and see everything with enough time to visit.

Besides this being my first year as president of the council, it was also my first year at the expo on the sales side vs. the retail side. I can truly say that the Southeast Produce Council does provide the platform for what I stated earlier about building professional relationships by providing platforms for networking, education and community outreach.

As we have now moved into spring, I look forward to seeing you this May at our next event: the Terry Vorhees Charity Golf Classic, which will be at the Atlanta National Golf Club in Milton, GA.

We will kick off Monday, May 4, with a silent auction and a Cinco de Mayo dinner, followed by a casino night, which should be lots of fun. Our shotgun style golf tournament will be held Tuesday, May 5. I look to another successful turnout and all proceeds raised will support one of our benefitting charities, the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

If you are not involved in the Southeast Produce Council, let me invite you to come join us, get involved, execute a plan and make an impact.

Mark Daniels, director of sales and procurement at Global Organic Specialty Source Inc. in Sarasota, FL, is president of the Southeast Produce Council.

Titan Farms first recipient of Produce Innovation Award

Titan Farms in Ridge Spring, SC, has been chosen to receive the first Bayer CropScience Produce Innovation Award, designated for a grower “whose thinking, practices and use of technology enhance the role of produce in creating better lives,” Bayer CropScience stated in a news release.

The award recognizes improved yield and quality of produce, increased accessibility of produce to a broader group of people or increased demand for produce by expanding awareness of the health benefits of fruits and vegetables, the news release added.  

Bayer CropScience is a global company offering seeds, chemical and biological crop protection products and services for sustainable agriculture. It invests 10 percent of its annual profits in research and development. Its U.S. offices and seeds research center is in Research Triangle Park, NC.

“Here at Titan Farms we recognize the importance of technology and strive to use it to benefit America’s consumers and to protect our precious natural resources,” Chalmers R. Carr III, president of Titan Farms, said in a statement.

The farm stretches over 15 square miles of three counties and uses a computerized irrigation system and radio signals to control water distribution and weather stations and soil moisture probes to monitor water use, record chill hours and register rainfall, and monitor soil wetness in vegetable beds.

Carr received the award at the recent Ag Issues Forum in Phoenix, the 10th annual meeting of the forum. A Clemson University graduate who has been with Titan Farms since 1995, Carr was named to represent plant commodity producers on a national advisory group by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The 25-member board helps Vilsack set priorities for agriculture research and guidelines for competitive grants, holds hearings and reviews department programs.

“With my background in farming, especially specialty crops, farm labor, immigration and interaction with land-grant universities, I hope I can bring the voice of the American producer to the issues handled by this committee,” Carr told The Produce News.

Titan Farms is one of the fastest-growing farming operations in America, with more than 5,000 acres of peach trees, 385 acres of Bell pepper and 325 acres of broccoli.