Produce events that changed history

09/16/2013 12:51:00 PM
Tom Karst

Tom Karst I checked out an e-book from the library the other day (my first e-book checkout!) titled the100 Most Significant Events in American Business.” It has been an interesting read.

It made me ponder the overlap between Quentin Skrabec’s book and the “100 most significant events for the American produce business.”

There will be many events that overlap between general business and the produce business. Here are a few that caught my eye from Skracbec’s book:

Revolution, famine and immigration (1848)

Western Union Telegraph Company (1851)

Transatlantic cable (1857)

Transcontinental railroad completed (1869)

First commercial telephone (1877)

Henry Ford wins race of the century (1901)

Income tax (1913)

Panama Canal opens (1914)

Hoover Dam (1931)

First Credit Card (1950)

First Walmart and Kmart open (1962)

First customer scan of a bar code (1977)

 

 

For the produce industry, transportation and growing/handling/packing technology have got to figure heavily in any "most significant" list.

From The Packer’s Century of Produce publication, here are just a few selected personalities among the “100 who made a difference” between 1893 and 1993:

Harvey A. Baum: As an executive with The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., Harvey Baum introduced fresh fruits and vegetables -- and also packaged produce -- to the chain-store system. And he used his influence to encourage the growth of large scale agriculture production through cooperatives. He is credited as being the first to use refrigerated cases and mirrored displays in stores. In the 1920s,

Baum expanded the offerings through 17,000 A&P Red Front stores beyond hardware items like potatoes and onions and, for the next 30 years, supervised the annual sale of more than 100,000 carlot equivalents of fresh fruits and vegetables. In 1927, Baum worked with Florida shippers and packaged oranges in 8-pound bags for A&P. The bagging of apples and other Florida citrus followed soon after. He supervised the openings of packaging plants in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida. In order to create suppliers to handle A&P's large volume, Baum formed grower cooperatives. He began his career with A&P as a produce buyer in 1920. By 1925 he had organized the Atlantic Commission Co. Baum worked his way up from general manager to president and finally to an executive position with A&P until his retirement in 1954. That same year, the 65-year-old Baum became president of Consolidated Growers Exchange, a position he held into the 1960s.

 

Luther Burbank: ``Plant Wizard'' Luther Burbank ranks as the most prolific and important produce breeder in American history. He created the Burbank potato, which still was the most widely grown potato variety 120 years after its introduction in 1873. He also bred more than 100 varieties of other plants, most notably plums, some of which remained in commercial cultivation into the 1970s. Inspired by the work of geneticist and evolution theorist Charles Darwin, 26-year-old Burbank headed west in 1875 on a train from his home in Lunenburg, Mass., with the $150 he received for selling a ``better'' potato. With him he took 10 of the potatoes, enough to eventually introduce the Burbank variety to the West Coast states. From the experimental nursery he began in 1875 in Santa Rosa, Calif., his extensive cross breeding efforts created a plethora of new plants in the next 60 years. His plants were grown worldwide and featured in virtually every seed catalog on the market. As Burbank's varieties became famous, so did he. He was unanimously elected an honorary member of the American Breeders' Association at its opening meeting in St. Louis in 1903. He pushed Congress to recognize the right of plant breeders to patent their products. Edward Wickson, former head of the Department of Horticulture at the University of California, a noted Burbank scholar, wrote in 1905 that Burbank had more than pioneered fruits. He ``has unearthed the laws that have governed their production and made bare truths that will live and benefit humanity even if they should ever cease to eat plums or care for potatoes.''

 

Joseph John ``J.J.'' Castellini J.J. Castellini founded what became know as the ``House of Castellini'' in 1923 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and began building the firm into a major force in Midwestern produce distribution. Through a strategy of carrying broadline products, vertical integration, partnerships and stakes in such businesses as trucking, intermodal transportation, fresh-cut produce, brokering and service wholesaling, the firm became one of the few old-line commission merchants to thrive into the 1990s. At 15, Castellini began his career in 1891 as a clerk and fruit handler for the M. Fugazzi & Co. commission merchant firm in Cincinnati. By night he was a student, taking bookkeeping courses. With his new skills he took a position with A.H. Gray & Co. and in 1898 -- with $500 to his name -- the 20-year-old Castellini became a partner with William M. Gray and William H. Krohne under the name William M. Gray & Co. Two years later he bought out his partners and incorporated the firm in 1923 as the J.J. Castellini Co. Four years later it became The Castellini Co. Castellini's son Robert led the company for a time and formed the Cincinnati Produce Growers Association and was instrumental in the evolution of the wholesaling business into a full-service, value-added marketer. J.J.'s granddaughter, Claire (Thornton), and grandson, Bob, helped build the firm into a distribution network serving 25 states by the 1990s

 

Arthur U. Chaney In 1907, Arthur U. Chaney founded the American Fruit Exchange -- which a year later became the American Cranberry Exchange. He was a pioneer in organizing growers into sales and marketing blocs. He also fought for the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, enacted in 1930, which sought to restrict fraudulent produce marketing practices. Chaney was born on an Illinois farm in 1874 and later lived in Des Moines, Iowa, with his brother, Chester. They operated cranberry bogs in Wisconsin, which at the time was a state that paid growers individually for the fruit they brought in. That gave Chaney, who was known to growers as A.U. Chaney, the idea to become a fresh fruit broker for an organized group of farmers to develop orderly marketing conditions. Chaney headed to New York City where the exchange represented and handled sales for New Jersey, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Chaney operated the cranberry exchange until his death in 1941. The American Cranberry Exchange changed its name to Eatmore Cranberries Inc. in the early 1940s and continued to operate until 1954. At that time it closed its doors because most growers were diverting to processing with Ocean Spray.

 

Bruce Church: An innovator, a calculated risk-taker and a leader, Bruce Church helped push technological ventures that changed the fruit and vegetable industry. He was a leading lettuce breeder, and his investment and leadership in the Growers Ice and Development Co. and The Vacuum Cooling Co. spurred development of reliable refrigerated produce storage and shipments. In 1922, Church began his stint in the industry, working for the Tracy Waldron Fruit Co. in San Francisco. He returned to his Salinas Valley roots in 1927 and met his future business partner, Whitney Knowlton. He eventually bought out Knowlton and created Bruce Church Inc. in 1931. Church formed another partnership with Ken Nutting, Gene Harden and Russ Merrill in 1937. These four men created Growers Ice and Development Co. to provide the industry with much-needed ice-packing services for shipping fresh vegetables. Another of Church's innovations was one of the first seed and soil research programs. His research program produced about 50 percent of the lettuce seed used in the industry at the time. Church worked with the Salinas Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association to set up mandatory quality produce standards. He worked to improve relations between the Western Growers Association and government agencies. At the time of his death in 1958 he was dictating a speech for the WGA. He also was civic-minded. He led the produce industry battle against federal efforts to provide price supports during the Korean War and donated land to build the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital.

 

Andrew and Stephen D'Arrigo: Andrew and Stephen D'Arrigo, in 1922, founded the D'Arrigo Bros. Co., which was the first to commercially grow pack broccoli in the United States. They also introduced Pascal celery to California. The company also was first to successfully employ brand identification for its produce products. Andrew D'Arrigo and his brother Stephen left their homeland of Messina, Italy, in 1904. After World War I, in which they fought with U.S. forces, they entered the grape juice business. Andrew remained on the East Coast while Stephen supervised shipments from the West Coast. In 1922, the business officially became the D'Arrigo Bros. Co., specializing in a variety of fruits and vegetables favored by Italian Americans. Broccoli, a foreign commodity to U.S. consumers at the time, became their greatest hit. The brothers developed their own broccoli seed lines from seeds sent by their father in Italy. In developing their Andy Boy label, still in use on all D'Arrigo premium products in 1993, they used a photograph of Stephen's 2-year-old son. Stephen D'Arrigo served as board chairman of the Western Growers Association in 1947. He worked with Canadian industry and government officials to try and re-establish an Arbitration Board to settle industry disputes between Canada and the United States. In 1993, D'Arrigo Bros. was a full-service, vertically integrated produce firm farming more than 14,000 acres in California and Arizona and occupying 17 units in the New York Terminal Market. The company continues to grow on both coasts under the management of second and third generation D'Arrigo's.

 

That’s only just a taste of the “100 who made a difference” identified by The Packer. Apart from the personalities, what do readers think were the most important “events” in the produce industry? Immigration events, food safety outbreaks, the Food Safety Modernization Act, citrus greening; for the past 30 years, what are the top three most significant events for the U.S. produce industry? What would your top three look like?



Comments (2) Leave a comment 

Name
e-Mail (required)
Location

Comment:

characters left

Luis    
AZ  |  September, 16, 2013 at 11:54 PM

Difficult question for a top 3. The produce industry can change history and just as often, it is changed by history. Assuming farmers are usually the lowest men on the totem pole, I'll try going for the demand side. 1. The rise of fast-food and continuing trend for convenience and eating out of the home (many reasons for that). 2. The growth of mega-retailers like Walmart and accompanying buy side consolidation and quest for supply-side efficiency. 3. GATT,later WTO and widespread trade liberalization offering both challenges and opportunities.

Tom K    
Lenexa  |  September, 17, 2013 at 05:09 PM

Those are strong. I especially like 2 in your list. Luis. Tom K

Feedback Form
Leads to Insight