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Donio committed to being good stewards of the land

HAMMONTON, NJ — Frank Donio Inc. is a full-service wholesaler that distributes an extensive line of fresh fruits and vegetables sourced from all areas of the United States and beyond. But with its roots firmly planted here in southern New Jersey, fresh produce from its home state remains key, and the long Jersey season retains special significance.

The 2011 New Jersey spring vegetable deal was underway and gaining speed when The Produce News visited the company in mid-May. “As of today, most of the leafy items are in or on their way,” company President David Arena said May 19. One exception was asparagus, which was “a little late” this season.

But in general, “the timeframes are normal,” he stated. “The crops are coming along nicely. I haven’t seen any quality problems. So far, so good.”

One especially bright note has been a 400-acre parcel of land known as Donio Farms. For many, many years, that farm — under the leadership of Dennis Donio — had provided fresh peaches to Frank Donio Inc. For most of its history, Donio Farms had been a separate entity, but it became a subsidiary of Frank Donio Inc.’s farming operations, known as Pleasantdale Farms, in the spring of 2009. The peaches were pulled out, the land was rested over the winter, and in the spring of 2010, sweet corn, cucumbers, seedless watermelons and other mixed melons were put into the ground for the first time.

Those items turned out very well during the 2010 summer and fall deals, and the company planted those items this spring in hopes of duplicating its success. As Mr. Arena put it simply, “We’re real happy with it.”

Aside from the farming aspect of its business, Frank Donio Inc., which was founded in 1933, continues to concentrate on making its entire facility as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. Mr. Arena noted that the national economy, while recovering from perhaps the worst recession since the 1930s, is still “a very suspect economy,” so improving efficiencies in all aspects of its business just makes sense.

“We have focused our efforts on looking at energy efficiency and the general goal of being more of a green company,” said Mr. Arena. “As a vertically integrated company, we are looking at all options — all part of a comprehensive program.” He continued, “There is no one silver bullet. You have to look at many areas. We are very committed to being more friendly to the environment and to being good stewards of the land.”

In keeping with that philosophy, the company brought Brian Anderson on board in April 2010 as chief financial officer. Now with a full year under his belt, Mr. Anderson spoke about his tenure.

“It’s been a fantastic year,” he stated. He has learned “a lot about the produce business, a lot about Frank Donio Inc. and a lot about New Jersey produce.”

With an educational background in finance plus experience in the corporate finance area with firms such as Ralph Lauren, Honeywell and Pfizer, Mr. Anderson noted that “every industry is different.” The produce industry “is dynamic in and of itself.”

And while he is “always going to [concentrate] on the finance end” of the business at Frank Donio Inc., he hopes to “lend some of my previous financial experience” to the specific agricultural and produce aspects of the company.

In the personnel area, the company brought Patrick J. Cassario, 28, on board this year. Mr. Cassario, known as P.J., joined Pleasantdale Farms around the end of April to work on the watermelons, corn and cucumbers that proved so successful last year.

“He’s a young man who wants to be in agriculture,” said Mr. Arena. “I feel fortunate to have a young man like him here.”