California Giant Berry Farms has introduced corrugated clamshell containers like this 18-ouce blueberry “clamshell” for strawberries and blueberries, says Eric Valenzuela, the company’s director of food safety and sustainability. The company sees sustainability as an extension of the firm’s effort to give back to the community ( Courtesy California Giant Berry Farms )

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When it comes to sustainability, Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms strives to be on the cutting edge.

Eric Valenzuela, the company’s director of food safety and sustainability, sees sustainability as an extension of the firm’s effort to give back to the community.

“We believe that ‘giving back’ isn’t just about philanthropy,” he said.

“To us, it’s about protecting the land on which we grow our berries so that we will continue to have viable farming for generations to come.”

California Giant is committed to being sustainable in every sense of the word and bases its efforts on three pillars of sustainability: people, planet and profit, Valenzuela said.

“We strive to incorporate and find a balance between all three in all that we do,” Valenzuela said.

“Integrating sustainable growing practices and growing organic berries is just one example of our commitment to the planet.”

The company’s achievements in this area are many.

In late July, the company announced that its corporate headquarters had been awarded Gold certification under the TRUE — Total Resource Use and Efficiency — Zero Waste certification program.

The Gold certification recognizes California Giant’s achievement of diverting 91.24% of its office waste away from landfills and other waste outlets over the past year.

The firm also has moved from a paper-based to a digital-based platform in an effort to become a paperless company.

In the field, all of the California Giant’s growing operations practice water management and only use what is needed to make its products grow strong and healthy, Valenzuela said.

For example, water meters are placed throughout the farm and are embedded into the beds of the plants to track the moisture in the soil to determine if more water is needed.

“This allows the grower to effectively track the water use and distribute it to key areas without overwatering,” he said.

Integrated pest management or similar growing methods are used to minimize pesticide and fertilizer use.

“Our growers saw the need to change various farming practices due to environmental and social concerns,” Valenzuela said.

“In doing so, all of our growing operations, in collaboration with their (pest control adviser or certified crop adviser), developed an integrated pest management (program) that has been implemented for many years now,” he said.

“They saw the need to become sustainable for years, and this was one of the first steps.”

In the packaging area, California Giant has made several adjustments to address sustainability, including:

  • Light-weighting the amount of corrugate used in berry trays — using a calculated amount of only what is structurally needed to support the fruit
  • Reduction in the amount of total plastic used in clamshells and using as high a percentage of recycled material as possible
  • Introduction of corrugate clamshells for strawberries and blueberries

The company’s conservation efforts even extend to the world of bees.

One of its growers, AC Foods, was the first blueberry grower to be Bee Better Certified by the Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization that focuses on bee conservation.

“The certification process ensures that every farm provides native habitat for wild bees,” Valenzuela said.

Valenzuela said he would like to see all produce suppliers implement these and other sustainable practices.

“We are all stewards of the land and should be acting as such in the best way possible,” he said.

California Giant president Joe Barsi said the company’s sustainable efforts and achievements reflect its “commitment to treating the environment and the people involved in our supply chain right.”

“One of our company values is fairness in all we do,” he said.

“Recent acknowledgments by certifying agencies validate that we are not only growing berries in an environmentally sustainable way, but we are also ensuring that the people involved in the growing, harvesting and packing of the berries are treated fairly and with dignity.” 


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