With the subtropical climate in our area, the topic of agriculture receives plenty of attention from our local community. The health food industry has been working diligently to provide the freshest produce to its consumers, but where are we really receiving our food from? It is thanks to family-owned farms that we can have peace of mind in knowing where the source of our food originates. The East Naples Civic Association (ENCA) had Kent Shoemaker, the CEO of Lipman Family Farms (LFF) speak at its February luncheon held at the Hamilton Harbor Yacht Club to a crowd of 65 people.
LFF is the largest open-field tomato grower in North America, providing dependable year-round fresh produce through an integrated network of research and development, farming, processing, and repacking. LFF is originally based in Immokalee, Florida and has expanded its farming locations to South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, California and Mexico, totaling tens of thousands of acres, along with repacking operations in ten states. With this many operational locations, it allows LFF to grow and ship fresh produce 365 days a year.
Shoemaker is the first non-family member to run the 70-year-old company. Before joining LFF, Shoemaker was the COO for FreshPoint/Sysco – one of the largest produce distributors in the industry. With this much experience with different manufacturing processes, the main message was clear. “Don’t fear produce that isn’t labeled ‘organic,’ buy your fresh produce with confidence,” Shoemaker stated, when asked about the difference between regular store produce versus organically grown.
Throughout his presentation, the question of health, especially what we are putting into our bodies was brought up. The questions from the audience focused on practices such as genetically modified organisms, more commonly referred to as GMOs. Geneticmodification affects many of the products we consume daily, sometimes without us even realizing it. There has been research comparing the differences between organic produce that is farmed using only natural ingredients, versus farming that does not, and the findings are showing zero trace of residue from pesticides. You can trust that LFF does not spray its tomatoes and is committed to honest sustainability while providing the freshest produce. Without corporate pressures, this allows the leadership to do right by its community, which is one of the reasons LFF is considered the best farmland in Florida.
What does the future hold for LFF and other family-owned farms? Over the course of 2017, there will most likely be fewer tomato farmers in Florida, but LFF wants the community to know that its presence will continue to grow. Shoemaker intends to plant the same number of acres and wait for the market to change in their favor. They have a debt-free balance, which gives this farming company the power to think long-term. What is unique about running a family-operated company is having quality oversight among all farming locations.
Towards the end of the luncheon, ENCA took a moment to highlight its 50/50 raffle, having all donations placed into the scholarship fund for high school scholars. Once the luncheon concluded, guests were welcome to take home free tomatoes to taste the freshness for themselves. It will take committed farms like LFF to feed us, and our local community.
In addition to Shoemaker’s continued efforts to deliver the freshest produce to our local community, he spends his free time saltwater fishing and boating when he visits the Southwest Florida area.
ENCA is located at 11502 Tamiami Trail East. Naples. For more information and upcoming events, visit www.eastnaplescivic.com.