Those days where companies are hidden behind the curtain - like the Wizard of Oz - are way behind us. I have always felt it was important to know who is behind my food, but until the last ten years or so, it wasn't that easy. Up until recently, it had felt like the produce companies I’d see in stores were just nameless, faceless brands, but yet I knew that as a farming company, there just had to be more heart and ‘real people' behind each and every one.

Today, I am happy to say that these farming companies want you to know what they’re up to, they want you to understand what they do and how, and the reason why is clear. Because they’re doing the right things! They want to open their doors, share who they are, let you know what makes them tick, and why they feel so passionate about what they grow, and how they’re actually farming!

So, I thought that in honor of Earth Day, we’d look a little more closely at three companies that I’m working with here at Farm Star Living, and what they do that makes them feel proud to be transparent. And what makes me proud to have them featured on our pages here, and why I value them as people, as well as love their products.

So, here are three companies that I am celebrating on this Earth Day (and every day).

POTANDON - aka Green Giant™ Fresh and Klondike Brands:
Potandon is the company that grows potatoes under their Green Giant™ Fresh and Klondike Brands labels. They are based in beautiful Idaho Falls, and they are about all things potatoes. One thing about Potandon that stands out to me is how much they care about not only how they farm, but also how their customers experience their products.
Everything that they do is to produce the best quality, consistent – and consistently flavorful, and healthy potatoes. And, they are committed to doing this in the way that is not only best for the farms, the soil, but for the environment. This is just how they think! They're always looking for new innovations, and they’ve discovered many delicious new ways to conveniently enjoy their proprietary potatoes.If you've not seen their products – such as One Step Done, Minute Mashers and others, you really should check them out! We have a page on videos featuring all of these products, as well as videos that take you behind-the-scenes to know more!

They also have embraced technology, which has helped them become more efficient and even more sustainable. So not only do they employ these new technologies, but they also have a network of industry leaders, universities and other experts that they turn to consistently, to make sure that no stone is left unturned when it comes to discovering new ways to be sustainable. For example, while some farms will do blanket schedules when it comes to applying water or fertilizer, they do not. They instead monitor pH and nutrient levels of the soil to make sure they only apply water and fertilizers as needed, specifically, and carefully. They constantly optimize all of their farming processes, making sure that every step that they do towards farming the different varieties of potatoes leads them to the most environmentally sound practices that are even possible. With water issues becoming more and more of a concern in farming, they’ve implemented state of the art irrigation systems, which allows for momentary adjustments in water flow based on anything that might be happening, including being weather sensitive. Drip irrigation is really important, and this is being utilized often, resulting in a reduction of water use by up to 20% some years. That’s another thing that I love, they are chipping away at being more efficient and working at it so hard, year after year. In order to strengthen the soil naturally, they also allow for time for some fields to rest. Additionally, their innovative potato research team is working tirelessly behind the scenes developing potato (and onion) varieties that require less water and resources to grow, all via natural cross-pollination methods. Non-gmo.

Furthermore, they use an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, which is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to controlling diseases and pests, and I can speak from experience how challenging those pests can be. They can wear you down, relentless and causing havoc, so using an IPM method versus just using something more potentially quick, is a testament to commitment. They’re taking no short cuts, using specific data collected at the farm on the life cycles of the targeted pests, and control methods are employed to deal with the insects with the least possible hazard to people, property and the environment. This is regularly updated as insects and their threats change rapidly and constantly. I guess this is why the Green Giant™ Fresh and Klondike Brand potatoes are truly the most safe, delicious and ‘healthy’ potatoes out there. Not a sales pitch, but they are truly the best I’ve had.

STARR RANCH GROWERS:

So, picture this. The hills are snow-capped in the background, mountains of lush trees and gorgeous, clear blue skies overhead. This is what I saw when I toured Starr Ranch Growers orchards in both Washington and Oregon, and you just feel good health with every breath. These orchards are in the most pristine, natural and perfect environment that I’d seen in years. And the orchards? Beautiful trees, planted in rows as far as you can see, each one nurtured, supervised and grown with such care and nurturing. It's no wonder their apples, pears and cherries are so delicious, flavorful and nutritious. Everything is picked by hand, with people carefully twisting each apple off of its stem, to preserve its integrity, which is the culmination of a year of round-the-clock work and supervision.

I have to tell this story though. Weather has been unpredictable and can undo everything that’s been done in a matter of moments. Starr Ranch was facing this kind of environmental disaster (yes, disaster) when an unforeseen frost was predicted and would soon be coming in, literally ruining all of the orchards. The workers were no longer available as having to harvest at this time was not predicted, and everything would be lost. Know what happened? All of the employees, wives, and friends, and families, gathered together to save and pick the apples by hand, in order to keep them from being killed. They literally picked 100,000 apples by hand, at that time, to divert a full loss. This is the kind of heart, passion, and respect these trees and their fruits get from the community. And Starr Ranch Growers. I can’t help but seek out their label every time I am at a store.

They are doing things the right way, and in so many different ways. Many of Starr Ranch orchards are certified organic, however, even though some orchards maybe are not officially labeled ‘organic,’ it doesn’t mean that farmers are not implementing most of the same protocols in these neighboring fields as well. Getting the official 'organic' label is incredibly expensive, and regardless of being labeled officially organic or not, the farmers are always caring for the land, the quality of the soil, and tending to the individual trees.

I have watched the delight of the farmers' faces when the good, healthy bugs were landing on the leaves, and it was explained how these were the pests that help keep the fruits healthy, pesticide-free, and natural, or even organic. Water is a big issue, of course, and I saw how they used micro-sprinklers to conserve water, along with advanced technology to measure soil moisture. Knowing this helps them to adjust schedule for water delivery with precision, as well as the water level they use. No waste happens here, with Starr Ranch Growers also utilizing micro-irrigation fan jets to distribute water more evenly and prevents wasteful water usage.

MELON 1:

Melon 1 a farming family, multi-generation of a few families who have been dedicated to growing watermelons for decades, and then they partnered together. They are value-driven family people, and their company is filled with a team of folks - from warehouse and field workers, admin folks, who are like extended family to them as well. Plus, they work with other families along the East Coast who grow watermelons, and they all come together to put their label on it. They are all in this together, and they all have one goal in common: produce the best watermelons that money can buy. I have visited and toured the farm there in Florida, and I’ve thought it was just a wonderful, clean and bustling operation, filled with energy, passion and, as imagined, lots of watermelons!

They do things sustainably, too, and one thing I had not realized before was that their seedless watermelons were not bioengineered (not GMO)! Rather they are a hybrid created by the centuries-old farming process of cross-pollination. They also have been reducing the need for chemical herbicides by using natural, innovative agricultural practices to control weeds, manage erosion, reduce insects and pathogens, and preserve the integrity of the soil. The environment is so critical to them, and I think it’s so healthy and natural that alligators like it, too! I saw one lounging on the bank, on the side of the farm, as happy and as content as could be. The folks there gather together for meals, the workers are dedicated, and there’s just a good vibe all around. Their farms and family of farmers all seem to share the same values and goals. And, as a whole, they invite and initiate frequent, certified third-party audits to verify that environmental policies are followed to the highest degree on their farms and in their packing facilities. These independent inspections monitor soil, water, fertilizer use, pest control methods, too! And, that’s not all. Also, their harvest practices, packing practices, shipping practices, and food safety and security procedures. Talk about transparency!

These companies are doing the right things to make sure that their farms will be still healthy and grow enriching food in the future, and also that the Earth and our environment will be, too! I’m proud to know these companies, and also happy to report that so many more that are doing the right things – farming the right way, and ways that we can feel proud of and feel happy about. If you'd like to know more about what other companies are like and what they're doing, email me and I'll let you know. And, if I don't know, we'll find out together! I love doing this and would love to do more of it for you.


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