Hirakata: At Hirakata Farms, we changed the way we washed and the way we cool our melons in our shed operations. We also hired a full-time food safety manager.
As an association, we are writing everything down now. All of our members are making themselves much more transparent and accessible to the consumer. I’ll say it again that one of the major changes has been getting out there and putting a face to our product.
We are all family farms, fourth- and fifth-generation farmers. We want consumers to know that, and know we take great pride in the product we offer them. We feed the same product to our daughters, sons, moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas.
The response has been really good. It’s something we have never done before, and it’s hard talking on camera and stuff like that, but it needs to be done so that you get to know me, the guy down the road growing your fruits and vegetables.
PMA: How has your relationship with the retailer changed?
Hirakata: I communicate a lot more with them now. I’m not only talking with the area buyer, but I’m also talking with the produce buyer in the division itself.
Retailers are also asking what audits we have, what we’re planning on doing, if we’re going to get GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) food safety audit, which we did. They want to know what we’re doing to keep up on food safety.
PMA: What do you envision for the year ahead?
Hirakata: We’re going to try to catch our breath a little bit because it’s been a whirlwind. We’ll always be looking for ways to improve our operation at Hirakata Farms and the Rocky Ford Growers Association. Hopefully we’ll have a better volume next year. We’ll also keep promoting and keep getting a safe, quality product out there to the consumer.
PMA: What’s your advice to industry members?
Hirakata: Always tell your side of the story. Tell what you’ve done to upgrade or improve, what you’ve done in the past and what you’re going to do in the future. Always promote for your product, never promote against anybody.
Lorna Christie is executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.
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