Building a Family of Farms
– J&J Family of Farms is a growing partnership of multi-generational farm families that grow over 14,000 acres of vegetables. Based Loxahatchee, it operates packaging and cooling facilities in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Arizona and Mexico. J&J’s focus is ensuring freshly grown produce is available year-round from its diverse farm locations. Its surety of supply has built a foundation that has allowed the family of farms to move into new value-added packaging and more customer-facing products. The farm families grow bell peppers, green beans, zucchini squash, yellow squash, cucumbers, eggplant, hard squash and chili peppers.
The Florida operations are on the East Coast between Boca Raton and Stuart. “It’s a great growing region. We sit in a nice pocket here where the Gulf Stream is not too far offshore and it keeps us with nice warm temperatures even during the winter,” said Christy Cunningham, product development and marketing manager and daughter of founder Jimmy Erneston.
But when those temperatures get very hot in the summer, the company heads north. “We follow the season,” Cunningham said. “In the last few weeks, our operations team has moved on from Florida, because it’s too hot to grow anything here at this point. They’re in our Georgia facility right now. They will stay there until about July 4th, and then they’ll head to North Carolina and Tennessee. And then our team will head back south as the seasons change sometime in October. After that, they move back to Georgia and then come back here in mid-November.”
J&J Family of Farms traces its origins back nearly 100 years to a wholesale operation called Erneston & Sons Produce based in West Palm Beach. Its founder’s twin grandsons branched out in 1983 and formed the J& J operation. “My dad and Uncle Jerry formed J&J because they didn’t want to compete with the family in the wholesale business. They decided they would take a different approach and connect local farmers and farms to wholesale distributors,” Cunningham said.
In the early 2000s the brothers started investing in farming and formed partnerships with key growers to create a year-round supply of produce.
The company engages its grower partners in every facet of their operations, helping them to be the best they can be. One of these areas is creating a culture of social responsibility, taking care of the people who work at the farms and packinghouses. “Taking care of our workers is very important to us, and we’ve recently partnered with Farmworkers’ Coordinating Council,” said Cunningham. “They set workers and their families up with different services that they might need. They have a food pantry, they have a clothes area where people can select things they need, and they provide other great things. One of our company projects we did for the council was to create bags for the workers. We filled our six-count pepper bags with essential toiletry items, which we were able to donate to about 200 of the council’s clients.”
J&J also works hand-in-hand with its family of farms on food safety. “We take our food safety precautions very seriously. That’s really important to us and we understand that risk management begins at the farm level,” Cunningham said. “We have an entire team dedicated to food safety. We offer our farmers and partners resources to advise and help them develop the GFSI-based food safety program that is very specific to the risks associated with their organization. ”
Once a food safety program has been established and implemented, J&J sends a food safety representative to the farm to conduct self-inspections and pre-audits using a GFSI-benchmarked checklist, Cunningham explained. “Once this has taken place, J&J will schedule and mediate a GFSI third-party audit of the operation.
“And we offer our farms services such as lab testing and obtaining sanitizing chemicals and pumping and mixing stations for washing products. All of that is part of our partnership that they benefit from when they become part of our family of farms,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham says the company tries to help different generations of farmers to understand the latest regulations and requirements. “We work with them to make that happen. And doesn’t that help a grower who’s been in the family business forever to grow his business? We really want them to do what it takes to be successful. It takes a lot of money to grow food, and we make it our business to help them improve their bottom line.”