NAVOLATO, SINALOA —His formal title may be president of the board of directors, but Theojary Crisantes Sr. would be just as happy with a “grower-in-chief” moniker.
There is nothing to prove for this man who, first with his father and then three sons, built a large, highly organized and successful organic vegetable company, Wholesum Harvest.
Donning his floppy sun hat and old blue jeans while walking his shadehouses in Navolato, which is part of the Culiacan growing district, the foremost topic on Crisantes’ mind was the pepper weevil.
He noted that his bounty is 1,000 pesos (about $50) to the first employee to find a pepper weevil in a shadehouse. He added that a few days prior, an employee found a weevil, which a microscope found not to be a pepper weevil. So, that employee got 500 pesos for trying.
In organic operations such as Wholesum’s, there is no effective control for the tiny pepper weevils. So if a mating pair finds one another, their presence can be disastrous. The best cure is prevention, so keeping pests away from production with well-secured shadehouses, armed with an S-shaped, maze-like entry system and double doors, is a must.
Highlighting The Produce News’ March visit to Wholesum headquarters, arranged by Crisantes was a meeting with leaders of the entity’s Fairtrade committee. These company workers were elected by their peers to represent worker interests in delegating moneys received for Fairtrade premiums.
Demetrio Pereda presented a slide presentation about how Fairtrade has benefited Wholesum’s workers, who cultivate a total of 300 acres on two Culiacan-area locations.
This Fairtrade program has been operational for five months. The committee members have created a computer center for employees to learn and utilize. There is a scholarship program for workers’ children ranging in age from elementary school to college. The group also bought refrigerators, which are shared by four families.
There is now a Fairtrade-paid laundry service and daily dental services. The latest program provides funding to help keep up workers’ permanent homes, which tend to be in southern Mexico, particularly in Guerrero. That money has gone to build tin roofs, concrete floors for homes, bathrooms and water cisterns for potable water.
Pereda, who moved here permanently from Oaxaca eight years ago, said there is work around his homeland in the winter months to harvest coffee or plant corn, but “there is not enough work every day,” as there is in this Culiacan area.
Fellow Fairtrade committee member Emiliano Vicente likes working in this area because his children can get an education and because there is no child labor in this area. He added that this is a better place to become a better person.
About 20-25 percent of this farm’s volume is sold to Fairtrade. A key part of this business is the retailer Whole Foods Market, which promotes the Whole Trade program. In five months, this program has earned $70,000 in premiums to benefit workers.
At Wholesum’s Imuris greenhouse project in northern Sonora, the Fairtrade program has earned workers $500,000, Crisantes said.
North of Nogales in Amado, AZ, Wholesum’s modern greenhouse has become a lead example for a new Fairtrade USA program. Crisantes’ Nogales-based son, Ricardo Crisantes, is on the board of directors of Fairtrade USA.
In Navolato, independent of the Fairtrade program, Wholesum pays for a doctor, Rosario Cabrera, to be fulltime on staff. Another company benefit is a fully staffed day-care facility.