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Oakes Farms making good headway on path to recovery from Hurricane Irma

“You can’t keep a good man down” would be the perfect idiom for the farming industry if changed slightly to “You can’t keep a good farmer down” when they are faced with challenges.

Oakes Farms in Immokalee, FL, is a perfect example. When news broke that Hurricane Irma was forecast to scathe the west coast of Florida on Sept. 9 and 10, the company rushed to move as many of the 5 million young plants in various stages of growth that were in its greenhouses into protected areas. But those plants that were already in the ground were feared to be a complete loss.oakOakes Farms has added 490 acres of hard squash production in Florida this year.

The day after the storm, Steve Veneziano, Oakes Farms’ vice president, said that every commodity — peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes and eggplant — might have been totally destroyed, noting that “driving to the farm this morning was like driving through a war zone.”

The company didn’t lose a minute in its effort to start again, and today things are looking much better. As a leading East Coast producer of field vegetables, the company is depended on by many clients in all categories of the food industry, and it’s one farming operation that can’t be kept down.

“Today, our earliest plantings are looking average,” said Veneziano. “We were able to save some of the plants, although there was about 15 percent plant loss on that first planting at the field level.”

But the company has struggled through other weather issues since then.

“On one day in the middle of November, we faced 35 mile-per-hour winds, and stronger,” added Veneziano. “This caused a lot of bloom drop, which will further decrease yields for late November and early December crops. We are looking to start acorn squash and spaghetti squash about Nov. 28.”

To help it catch up, and to increase its yields, the company added more than 490 acres of hard squash production this year, and it is also producing Butternut and Kabocha squashes.

Oakes Farms has experienced phenomenal growth in recent years. Today, the company has growing partners and operations in every major growing region up and down the East Coast.

Now it is also expanding internally. Just over a year ago, Oakes Farms took occupancy of its new 16,519-square-foot refrigerated facility at the Immokalee State Farmers Market. The company now has six facilities in Immokalee, providing cold storage for over 300 trailer loads of product.

Its expansions are now reaching into other areas in order to even better service its customers.

“Our own logistics company, Seed to Table Logistics, is scheduled to start in mid-December,” said Veneziano. “We are working with owner-operators who will work exclusively for us. This will ensure on-time delivery of products. With the implementation of the new Electronic Log Mandate, we expect to see significantly higher pricing and much slower delivery times across the U.S. Having our own logistics company will give us better control of when our customers receive their produce.”