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The year 1953 was quite eventful for Tanya Auerbach, a wife, mother, grandmother and produce industry executive who died earlier this month. It was the year she graduated from college, co-founded a garlic company and got married.

Tanya (nee Kaplan) Auerbach was born Jan. 28, 1932 in Brooklyn, NY, where she was raised. She and Irwin Auerbach founded Maurice A. Auerbach Inc. in Mr. Auerbach's mother's home in Brooklyn in 1953 as a distributor handling a single item: garlic. The company was named for Mr. Auerbach's father.

Ms. Auerbach earned a bachelor of arts degree from Hunter College in New York City in 1953, and married Mr. Auerbach Dec. 27 of that year. Mr. Auerbach died in January 1992.

Ms. Auerbach, a resident of Washington Township, NJ, died Wednesday, Aug. 15 at home following a long battle with cancer, "surrounded by those she loved," as her son-in-law Jeff Schwartz put it. She was 75 and also had a home in Boynton Beach, FL.

The company was founded as an importer of garlic, since at that time virtually all garlic came from Italy, Mr. Schwartz told The Produce News. Supplies from Italy were curtailed during World War II, so the company looked to California. After the war, Italy returned to its prominent place as a garlic source, and the Auerbachs again started importing. It was not until the late 1950s that California became a major source of garlic and the location of choice for the Auerbachs and others in the garlic deal, according to Mr. Schwartz.

Also in the mid- to late 1950s, the company took office space at the old Washington Market in Lower Manhattan, where it remained until 1962, when it moved to the Ozone Park section of Queens, NY. The company moved again, in 1994, to its current location in South Hackensack, NJ.

Initially a stay-at-home mother, Ms. Auerbach concentrated primarily on financial administration during the company's early years. As her children got older, she became more actively involved in many areas, including buying, inventory, warehousing, expansion, fixtures and machinery, said Mr. Schwartz.

Shallots were added to the product line around 1970, and ginger root around 1971-72. Her son, Paul, became more active in the business in the mid-1970s, and many more items were added after that.

"She and Irwin were true partners," recalled Mr. Schwartz. "She accompanied him on buying trips. She was always present at the [trade] shows, and she accompanied him to the growing areas. He was the boss, but I don't think he ever made a decision without consulting her."

Ms. Auerbach, who was secretary and treasurer of the company, is survived by her son, Paul, who is president and chief executive officer of the company, and his wife, Randy; her daughter, Marcia Schwartz, and her husband, Jeff, who is vice president of the company; her sister, Myra (Mickey) Haberman and her husband, Irwin; her grandchildren Amy, Josh (who joined the company in March 2006), Ian, Gregory and Amanda; and many nieces and nephews.

"No change in operations is anticipated," Mr. Schwartz stated.

The family requests that donations may be made to the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, 304 E. Midland Ave., Paramus, NJ 07652; or to the American Cancer Society, 20 Mercer St., Hackensack, NJ 07601.
Whole Foods Market Inc. and Wild Oats Markets Inc. announced Aug. 23 that they are now legally cleared to proceed with their merger as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has denied the Federal Trade Commission's request for a stay to preclude the closing of the merger pending the FTC's appeal and has dissolved the Aug. 20 administrative injunction, which had prevented the transaction from going forward while the court considered the FTC's motion.

"We are pleased to have cleared what we expect to be our last legal hurdle," John Mackey, chairman, chief executive officer and co-founder of Austin, TX- based Whole Foods Market said in a statement. "We look forward to closing this merger and believe the synergies gained from this combination will create long-term value for our customers, vendors and shareholders as well as exciting opportunities for our new and existing team members."
At a meeting held Aug. 15, the board of directors of the Hass Avocado Board approved the promotion of Jose Luis Obregon to the newly created role of managing director.

Mr. Obregon most recently served as the managing director of information technology for the board, overseeing the creation of its state-of-the-art Network Marketing Center and its intranet site, avoHQ.com.

In his new post, Mr. Obregon will take a more central role in the strategic direction, operation and management of the board, while continuing to oversee the ongoing development and implementation of its information technology and marketing programs. He also will continue to serve as the liaison between the HAB and the avocado industry worldwide.

"We have full confidence in Jose Luis' ability to balance the duality of managing the current HAB programs, while providing the strategic vision for the organization," Charley Wolk, chairman of the Hass Avocado Board, said in a statement. "His leadership capabilities have been key to this industry's incredible growth; the success of avoHQ.com is a primary example."

"I am both honored and excited to be named to this position," Mr. Obregon said in a statement. "Throughout my tenure with the organization, I have become increasingly familiar with the issues and challenges of the worldwide Hass community. I welcome the opportunity to continue building demand for Hass avocados while increasing category growth in the United States."

A bilingual citizen of Mexico, Mr. Obregon also is fluent in the business practices and culture of Chile. This background serves him well, as Mexico and Chile are the largest exporters of Hass avocados into the United States.

He joined the HAB in 2005 after two years as deputy director of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas in Nogales, AZ. He earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from the Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey and an MBA from the University of Arizona.
Farmers have been the backbone of America for a very long time. In fact, archaeologists determined that agriculture first took place around 7,000 B.C.

In 1790, the total U.S. population was 3,929,214 and farmers made up 90 percent of the labor force. Two hundred years later, in 1990, the population stood at 246,081,000, and farmers comprised just 2.6 percent of the work force.

A few months ago, I was driving on a country road just off a main interstate highway on my way to visit a client in California. While driving along the road, I spotted a huge real estate sign in a field that read, "Coming Soon 2,000 Acre Home Site." Slowing down a bit, I noticed it was a deserted farm with the traditional barn and old, rusted equipment. I surmised that the farmer closed up shop, sold the property and moved away.

Do you work near a newly developed area? If so, at what fast-food restaurant do you have lunch? On what road do you drive to get there? Is there a gas station, supermarket, drug store or bank along the way? Do you pass a new residential area or an industrial park? Do you remember the cabbage farm that used to be on that land?

The land that we are now occupying was probably once farmed by some very hard-working people. These farms were handed down through many generations. Perhaps you may even have known the owners of some of these farms at one time. In many parts of the country, farmlands are being sought after by commercial real estate developers, who are offering substantial prices per acre for the property. These tempting offers are quite difficult for many farmers to turn down.

Derrell Kelso Sr., director of marketing for Onions Etc. in Stockton, CA, who knows many farmers and is very knowledgeable about the farming industry, told me, I could remember a hard-working farmer who had 6,000 acres and lost every bit of it. The cost of operations was just too high. There are a lot of elderly farmers whose children do not want to take over and are selling off the property to housing developers.

Joe Cavalier Jr. of Cavalier-Gulling-Wilson Co., a wholesaler that handles a large amount of locally grown produce at the Northern Ohio Food Terminal in Cleveland, said, If you were a fourth- or fifth-generation farmer, you would have to do what is best for your family. Some may choose to sell their property and move on. It's a very tough decision for many to make.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the value of U.S. farmland has increased more than 200 percent during the past 20 years. U.S. farmland is being lost to development every day. The big rise in land cost has revolutionized the countryside.

Farming profits continue to drop year after year with many operations either barely breaking even or experiencing substantial losses. A great number of farmers feel its not worth the risk anymore, and the younger generation has a different attitude. Children of farmers rarely follow in the family footsteps these days, and fewer younger people have a desire to get into farming at all. Instead, they would rather choose to turn a college education into a totally different career and lifestyle that consists of rational hours with a much higher and steadier income.

Many farms depend on federal subsidies to offset some of the losses experienced from low-market situations. In most cases, those subsidies may not nearly be enough to help a full-time operation. This has forced many farmers to turn to off-land jobs in order to financially support their business. Ninety-six percent of total income and all job growth in rural America are now obtained from sources other than farming. Small family farms today earn 85-95 percent of their total income off the farm.

But not every single farmer is selling off his or her property just yet. There are those who find ways to keep the business running. Many of them are even steadily keeping up with the trends and creating a niche such as promoting locally grown produce.

Cynthia Haskins, a Springfield, MO-based marketing consultant for the produce industry, feels that locally grown produce is a very promising program for family farmers.

Buying locally grown produce is getting very popular, she said. Many farmers are selling their produce to local retailers. Some are even choosing to sell at the many farm markets cropping up in various areas. The locally grown produce scene is a quiet lion ready to roar. Farmers are becoming more knowledgeable in sorting and grading their product to meet retailers needs and standards. One retailer here in our area is a good supporter of locally grown produce. It posted a sign in the store that states '24 hours from the farm to the stores.

People are enjoying longer and healthier lives today. Having all the many different nutritious fruits and vegetables made available to us is one of the major reasons. For that, we should be grateful to American farmers.

(Ron Pelger is the owner of RONPROCON, a consulting firm for the produce industry. He can be reached by phone at 775/853-7056, by e-mail at ron@power-produce.com, or check his web site at www.power-produce.com.)
There seems to be little doubt that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will help fight cancer, but the Food & Drug Administration continues to find no strong link between eating tomatoes, with their high levels of lycopene, and reducing cancer risks.

In a July 18 medical journal, FDA researchers showed how they reviewed 81 studies -- and rejected all of them -- to reach the conclusion that there is little evidence backing the claim that lycopene, the pigment that gives tomatoes their red color, reduces the risk of cancer, including prostate, lung, colorectal, stomach, breast, cervical, endometrial, ovarian and pancreatic.

More than half of 64 studies on tomatoes and tomato products and cancer were strong enough to be included in the review, but the agency found no credible evidence to support the claim that these products lower the risk of many forms of cancer. The evidence pointing to prostate cancer was better, but limited.

Consumers should look at the whole body of research about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and preventing cancer, said Samantha Winters of the Florida Tomato Committee.

Some of the studies are beginning to point not to one antioxidant in the tomato but perhaps several antioxidants working together, "so that lends itself to looking at the whole fruit," she said.

"We still believe there is a strong health message to eating tomatoes," said Ms. Winters, who noted that the FDA has approved a new, limited health claim for prostate cancer benefits.

"There is no new news here," said Michael Mullen, director of Global Corporate Affairs for H.J. Heinz Co. "The FDA information is merely a recap of what was given to Heinz when we made a petition for a health claim two years ago."

The FDA's review came in response to a petition filed by Heinz, the company asking to market the health benefits of lycopene and tomatoes on product labels. The FDA dismissed much of the petition for several kinds of cancer, but said there was "very limited credible evidence" linking tomatoes and/or tomato sauce to reducing prostate cancer risks.

"Since Heinz does not make any claims regarding lycopene on any of its products, our business is unaffected by the latest FDA statements," Mr. Mullen said. "Lycopene is an important antioxidant which Heinz continues to believe is helpful in the battle against prostate cancer and other cancers."

Edward Giovannucci of the Harvard School of Public Health cautioned against dismissing the health connection.

"Given the complexities of studying the relationship between tomato or lycopene intake and prostate cancer risk, both in terms of the exposures and the outcome, one should not be too surprised that no firm conclusion of benefit would be made in the FDA review," Mr. Giovannucci said in an editorial accompanying the FDA study. "Although it may be premature to espouse increased consumption of tomato sauce or lycopene for prostate cancer prevention, this area of research remains promising."

This study comes as another study yielded disappointing results for women battling breast cancer. Called the largest and most comprehensive diet prevention study, the study found that the rates of breast cancer survival and recurrence did not improve for women when they ate nine or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables or followed the five-a-day diet. More than 3,000 women diagnosed with early stages of breast cancer were studied for 10 years.

The study's findings are "pivotal because we always assumed that we were not eating enough fruits and vegetables, and the more we ate, the more protected we would be against cancer," said Lovell Jones, the study's principal investigator at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

But just a week later, a study by Canadian researchers found a link between a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli and cauliflower, and lower rates of aggressive prostate cancer.