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JemD and Agricola El Rosal celebrate new Texas facility, new branding

Ever since JemD Farms, headquartered in Leamington, ON, and Agricola El Rosal, a technically advanced greenhouse operation in Numaran, Michoacan, Mexico, entered into a partnership in 2008, its growth has been exponential. The companies’ shared commitment is to better service customers on a year-round basis with consistently high-quality hydroponic produce sold under the “Red Sun Produce” and “Golden Sun Produce” labels.

To accommodate the growth, the firms opened a new cross-docking and distribution facility Sept. 1 in Pharr, TX, named El Rosal Cold Storage.

“Prior to this, we were using third-party property that we were managing,” Jim DiMenna, president of JemD Farms, told The Produce News. “As our business with El Rosal increased, it became a matter of good sense to have our own operation in Texas. As we continue to grow our company and our acreage at El Rosal increases, it is important that we’re able to handle our own product in order to efficiently feed it to our other facilities in North America so they can service our clients on an hourly to overnight basis.”

JemD Farms has facilities in Georgia, Michigan, Quebec and two in Ontario, making El Rosal Cold Storage its sixth location.

The Pharr facility is on the Mexican border and is where the majority of the firm’s fresh produce grown in the country and destined for the eastern portion of the United States is sent for cross-docking and distribution.

Mr. DiMenna said that the facility is over 20,000-square-feet in size and is situated on a prime 10-acre lot.

“It is a state-of-the-art operation with standard lines,” he said. “And it has over 750 pallet spots. This is just stage one of what is planned at the location. Part of our continued growth strategy was to have ample property for expansion as we feel a need in the future.”

El Rosal and JemD Farms are unified in the management of the new facility.

JemD Farms and El Rosal celebrated the grand opening of the building Oct. 5. In attendance were Mr. DiMenna and Carlos Visconti, director of commercial operations for El Rosal and chief operating officer of JemD Farms. Also on hand were Pharr Mayor Leopoldo (Polo) Palacios Jr., as well as officials from the local chamber of commerce, builders, designers, contractors, and industry and transportation professionals.

Mr. DiMenna acknowledged the growing importance of locally grown programs in North America, but he also recognized the challenges.

“Because of our Canadian operations, we are strongly involved in the locally grown program,” he said. “But we refuse to settle for less than perfect quality. Local, most everyone agrees, should come first, but only if it’s perfect quality. And most areas of North America cannot produce fresh vegetables 12 months a year. Greenhouse product fills a tremendous void in this respect. It’s a strong movement for sure, but consumers will never settle for product that doesn’t meet their standards.”

He also noted that he would likely get a different response from every consumer about what locally grown means to them.

“Another piece of this locally grown puzzle is in considering food safety and traceability,” he added. “Many small local farmers aren’t subject to the stringent food-safety and traceability certifications that companies like JemD Farms are. The local movement will have to engage these issues and get in line with the same ability to traceback all the way to the point of production. Major retailers aren’t going to take the risk with the 50 cartons of produce the grower down the street can supply, not without proof of traceability and sound food-safety certifications in place.”

Mr. DiMenna understands traceability well. He is currently serving his second year on the Produce Traceability Initiative task force, which is sponsored by the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, GS1 US, the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association. It is designed to help the industry maximize the effectiveness of current traceback procedures while developing a standardized industry approach to enhance the speed and efficiency of traceability systems for the future.

“The Initiative’s goal is to have a common methodology to trace produce from the farm to the retail store,” he said.

He also currently serves as vice chairman of the CPMA and will become the chairperson for 2012-13.

In addition to the new facility, JemD Farms launched its new Canadian brand “Golden Sun,” which will be unveiled at the PMA Fresh Summit in Atlanta (Booth 4427). Enzo Mancuso, a Canadian chef, will be preparing dishes showcasing the flavor and versatility of the company’s produce. The “Golden Sun” name will be used on summer season produce from Ontario, and the “Red Sun” brand will mark the winter season’s production from Mexico.

As it has every year since the partnership was formed, acreage has again increased at the El Rosal operation, which now stands at 230 acres of greenhouse production.

“We could lift our Mexican operation, set it down in Ontario and it would have the same high level of technology that we are known for in Canada,” said Mr. DiMenna. “Aggressive expansion strategies in both Mexico and in Canada are planned out for every year for years to come.”