“We have added hydrocooled green beans to our product list this year,” Tom Sheppard, president of Eastern Fresh Growers Inc., in Cedarville, NJ, told The Produce News. “We handled them several years ago with good success, but we moved away from them.”
Mr. Sheppard is also vice president of Sheppard Farms, the company’s farming division.
Eastern Fresh Growers is preparing to move into its newly built, 28,125-square-foot packing facility. Mr. Sheppard said that it has an 8,375-square-foot mezzanine, a 2,000-square-foot employee break room, 2,000 square feet of office space and a 1,650-square-foot utility area. The packing area is temperature controlled, and the product and employee flow will be optimized for food safety.
“The building is a larger version of our current packinghouse that we built about five years ago,” said Mr. Sheppard. “We have been very satisfied with its design, and so we used the same basic footprint in the new building. It will be used for cucumbers and peppers. It is also equipped with an electronic pepper line for future use. It is fully refrigerated to provide an unbroken cold chain in a sealed and insulated environment.”
He added that the building has a sloped floor and can be completely washed down. The break room is fully equipped and designed for food-safety enhancement. The building should be in operation by the middle of June.
Also new this year, the company will be offering more club packs. It has offered a two-and-a-quarter-pound pack of asparagus to some customers in the past, and it will make the pack available to more customers this year. The new facility also will be packing a one-pound, six-count bag of Bell peppers.
Eastern Fresh Growers is a major supporter of the state’s Jersey Fresh locally grown promotional program.
“Much of our product is branded with the ‘Jersey Fresh’ label on boxes and product stickers,” said Mr. Sheppard. “We use it wherever we can.”
The company was cutting asparagus in mid-May, and Mr. Sheppard said that there has been very strong demand for the item.
“The crop is not quite as large as it was last year, which was the best year we ever had with the item,” he said. “We had a warmer spring last year, which pumped up the volume. But asparagus is volatile from day to day, depending on weather changes, so we could catch up with last year by the end of the season.”
All New Jersey leafy greens are outstanding this year, said Mr. Sheppard, and the cooler spring weather is perfect for leafy items.
“They grow a little slower in cool weather, but it increases the quality tremendously,” he stated. “We’re a little behind with cucumbers and peppers, but we expect both crops to catch up quickly.”
In addition to Sheppard Farms, Eastern Fresh Growers handles sales for Jersey Legacy Farms, Laning Brothers, Hensel Farms and Sorbello & Wheeler. It also handles product out of North Carolina, where it represents Tull Hill Farms, Premier Produce and Fresh Pik Produce in the spring and fall. Its product line is comprised of a number of products, including tomatoes and squashes.
Easter, Fresh Growers is third-party audited, and it follows Good Agricultural Practices regulations. It is also audited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, customer food safety personnel, independent customer auditors and, for certain commodities, Primus Labs.
Its food-safety initiatives also encompass GAP’s farm and farming practices, produce handling according to Good Handling Practices, through harvesting, field packing, packinghouse, storage and traceback.
“Our workers are trained in responsible conduct and safe and sanitary work habits,” Mr. Sheppard added. “This training covers a number of food-safety policies such as proper clothing, hand sanitation, use of disposable gloves, hairnets and aprons.”