Although FFVA producer member Veg-Pro was founded in 1998, its roots go back to 1952 in southern Quebec. That year, Dutch immigrants Pierre and John Van Winden bought their first land, close to the U.S. border, and began growing vegetables. Over the years, they decided to specialize in lettuce, established packing cooperatives, and in the 1980s acquired a modern cooling system.
A second generation took over in the 1990s and was successful in expanding business into Mexico and the United States. Partnering with other area growers, the Van Windens founded Veg Pro International in 1998 with the goal of being a leader in the production and marketing of fresh vegetables in Eastern Canada and the United States.
In 2000 Veg Pro founded the corporate farm, Vert Nature Inc., with locations in Canada and Belle Glade, and acquired packing plants in both locations.
The company harvests 20 kinds of leafy greens on 1,100 acres in Belle Glade from September through May. Then it takes a fleet of trailer trucks loaded with tractors, tools and other farm equipment to Sherrington, Quebec, for the summer growing season.
The products are sold in Florida at Publix and Costco as boxed salad blends under the brand “Fresh Attitude.” Arugula is its best-seller, followed by spring mix.
Veg Pro owns a cooling facility in Belle Glade in partnership with FFVA producer member TKM-Bengard, where greens are vacuum-cooled to 36 degrees. All product is washed three times, spin-dried, weighed and packaged in recyclable plastic containers, which are soon on their way to store shelves. The facility, Salade Etcetera, ships about 120,000 salad packages a week.
Sylvain Racette, Veg Pro’s vice president of sales and marketing, says that the baby spinach you see in the retail case at Publix was likely still in the field 48 hours earlier.
“If we harvest something today here in Palm Beach County, it’ll get to the packinghouse in the next hour, where they’ll cool it and then pack it tonight or tomorrow morning so it’s ready to be shipped tomorrow,” said Daniel Cavazos, Veg Pro’s farm manager and a graduate of FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program. Greens harvested in Quebec during the summer destined for the southern United States are quickly moved to Belle Glade for processing.
Food safety is a top priority, Cavazos said. “We have one of the best food safety programs in the area, both on the farm and at the packinghouse.”
As the largest supplier of baby leafy greens on the East Coast, Veg Pro has its challenges, which include muggy weather, insects and heavy rains, which it battles by installing netting over part of the crop. “We cover about 20 percent or 30 percent of the crop to deflect heavy rain,” Cavazos said. “That way, we don’t lose the entire crop to a weather event.”