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Wholesum cuts ribbon on new greenhouse facility

AMADO, AZ — Wholesum Family Farms Inc., a major player in organic produce, has opened state-of-the-art greenhouses in this small town in southern Arizona.

The company, known as Wholesum Harvest, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Nov. 10 for its 12-acre facility here that employs 350 and is just 30 minutes up Interstate 19 from the sister cities of Nogales, AZ, and Nogales, Sonora, a commercial and logistical hub of North American produce.

Some 250 people attended the four-hour event, which was presided over by company matriarch Yolanda Cristantes and which brought together family members from Mexico and the United States. It was catered by the company's marketing consultant, Anthony Totta.

Among the many guests was U.S. Rep. DSCF7728Theojary Crisantes Sr., president of Wholesum Harvest, speaking during one of numerous tours offered through the greenhouse. (Photo by Keith Rosenblum)Raul Grijalva, (D-AZ), who had just been elected to his fifth term in Congress earlier in the week.

Mr. Grijalva, whose district includes much of Santa Cruz County and covers 300 miles of border, called the greenhouse a "wonderful investment for this region" and "one that we are all sure will be profitable and the start of something much bigger."

He praised the Crisantes family for its "entrepreneurial spirit and devotion to a family business that should be a role model for others."

Wholesum's primary organic products are greenhouse-grown tomatoes, peppers and seedless cucumbers. In its shadehouses, Wholesum Harvest grows organic hard and soft squashes, hard squashes, Bell peppers, cucumbers and eggplant. It also produces organic mangos.

The company's organic tomato line is comprised of Roma and cherry tomatoes-on-the-vine, along with cherry, grape and beefsteak varieties, which are produced in Mexico, Arizona and California. Customers include small and large retail chains, wholesalers, foodservice operators and industrial operations throughout North America.

The greenhouse is to be built in four phases and will occupy as many as 60 acres. It is at the absolute northern tip of Santa Cruz County, the smallest in size of Arizona's 15 counties and one that is considered especially friendly to companies engaged in the produce industry.

It was built in just 11 months, a time period that likely could never have been met if the project was located in adjacent Pima County, home to Tucson and notorious for a slow and painstaking approval process.

The project, built over sprawling and sloping ranch land, required movement of thousands of metric feet of soil, procurement of water rights and zoning modification.

The company, which operates two greenhouses in Imuris, Sonora, 70 miles south of Amado, considered a number of locations in the United States and Mexico before opting for this parcel on the west side of Interstate 19 midway between Tucson and Nogales. It is producing its first crop this fall.

The technology used in this facility was provided by Kubo of Monster, the Netherlands.

Wouter Kuiper, chief executive officer of Kubo, said that the facility here is at the "absolute high end of all greenhouses" in the world today. Existing technologies could "not go any further," he said, "but this is just a start and we don't even know where the ceiling will be."

A half-dozen Dutch professionals worked on the project with Mexican and U.S. engineers.

"This is really a family business," Mr. Kuiper said. "In many ways, the Crisantes are conservative in their investments, but they are also willing to take risks. They are very studious, very calculated. They are going to be very successful in decades to come."

Wholesum is a third-generation family farm that has been in operation for 85 years. Family patriarch Miguel Crisantes Gatzionis migrated from Greece to Mexico in the 1920s and started farming in Sinaloa in 1930. The company has handled organic items since 1990.