Lipman donates to Boys & Girls Club

Lipman is committing $200,000 to help a Collier County, Fla., nonprofit organization.

The Immokalee, Fla.-based Lipman is donating to the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County, Immokalee, according to a news release.

Scheduled to open in early 2016, the organization’s 16,000-square-foot facility is expected to serve more than 400 children and young adults with afterschool and summer programming.

“In Collier County, more than 63% of children live at or below the poverty line, and that number is even higher in Immokalee,” Theresa Shaw, the organization’s president and chief executive officer, said in the release. “Because of the generosity from the community and companies like Lipman, we’re able to increase our reach to help even more children and families.”

Lipman contributes to organizations that directly affect those who need help the most, Jaime Weisinger, Lipman’s director of community and government relations, said in the release.

“We need an organization like the Boys & Girls Club in Immokalee to serve our children and youth, and we’re proud to help build the new facility,” he said in the release.

Since 2011, Lipman has funded scholarships and supported the organization’s services including Miracle Plus, an afterschool program that teaches students citizenship and leadership skills, according to the release.

Lipman has committed to provide the organization $50,000 a year for four years, according to the release.


Pacific Tomato enters vine-ripe business

Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., is increasing shipments of vine-ripe tomatoes, which it grew experimentally last spring in Immokalee.

The Palmetto, Fla.-based Pacific Tomato invested $2 million in growing and packing operations to ship directly from the farm.

The new packing facility at the farm south of Immokalee includes a food safety team and offers stickered Price Look-Up numbers on the 4x4, 4x5 and 5x5 vine-ripened round red tomatoes.

Pacific Tomato plans to wash and pack the tomatoes, said Jon Esformes, operating partner.

It plans to merchandise the vine-ripes to retailers as local tomatoes.

“We are seeing tremendous interest in vine-ripes,” Esformes said. “Our customers are consistently asking us to do more for them, and it’s just part of us rounding out our offerings to our customers.

“At the end of the day, tomatoes that are handled properly are what the consumer wants and what the system needs. We know Florida is the leader in U.S.-produced tomatoes from October to May. We believe people want U.S.-grown product.”

Pacific began production in early December, and harvest should last through late May.


Santa Sweets increases organic acreage

Santa Sweets Inc. has expanded its acreage of organic grape tomatoes.

The Plant City, Fla.-based grower-shipper increased this season’s acreage by 20%, said Rick Feighery, vice president of sales for Philadelphia-based Procacci Bros. Sales Corp. and Santa Sweets.

The grower-shipper increased acreage in central and south Florida, he said.

“We are seeing demand increase across all the organic commodities,” Feighery said. “We are still seeing double-digit increases every year. We have good relationships with our retail partners and continue to see the increase.”

Feighery said it’s challenging growing organics, which is tough anywhere, but because of the humid weather and pests particularly difficult in South Florida.


Immokalee Produce Shippers bought last fall

Immokalee Produce Shippers Inc., recently completed its first year under its new ownership.

Michael Melninkaitis, director of operations for Northeast Produce Inc., a Plainville, Conn.-based tomato repacker, and his wife Lisa Melninkaitis, purchased the Immokalee-based grower-shipper last fall.

Richard Levine sold the company upon retirement and serves as a consultant for the new operation, Melninkaitis said.

Levine’s daughter, Robin Levine-Provent, who was office manager and sold for the old company, sells for the new operation while her husband Bruce Provent is packinghouse manager.

Rick Levine, the former owner’s son, is farm manager.

The Melninkaitises, who are partners in the family-owned Northeast Produce, sell tomatoes from the Florida operation to Northeast Produce and to others and repack throughout the year for different customers, Michael Melninkaitis said.

Immokalee Produce Shippers started in 1986, and Northeast began in 1980.