(Oct. 11) FreshSense, the Parlier, Calif.-based company that markets the Ripe ’N Ready brand, has secured a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its efforts in sustainable agriculture.

FreshSense president Blair Richardson said the company will use funds from the USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant program to help retailers educate consumers about sustainable agriculture.

“We have to develop a number of messaging tools to get this out in front of consumers and retailers, including point-of-sale materials, radio and a Web site,” Richardson said.

FreshSense has certified 40% of its acreage through San Diego-based Protected Harvest, Richardson said. The marketing company’s members hope to have close to 100% of their product certified in time for next season.

Dean Thonesen, vice president and general manager of Parlier-based Sunwest Fruit Co. Inc., and a FreshSense board member, said in a news release that FreshSense members are investing more than $2 million to ensure their agricultural practices comply with Protected Harvest’s standards for soil, water and air quality, habitat requirements, energy efficiency and chemical use.

FreshSense’s other members, all from California, are: Ballantine Produce Co. Inc., Sanger; Fowler Packing Co. Inc., Fowler; Kingsburg Orchards, Kingsburg; and George Bros. Inc., Sultana.

In addition to its preconditioned Ripe ’N Ready line, Richardson said Fresh Sense will introduce the Zeal brand next year, a line of stone fruit that is certified by Protected Harvest but not preconditioned.

Both brands are scheduled to debut with the Protected Harvest seal in late April or early May, when the California peach and nectarine harvests begin, Richardson said.