(Sept. 19) Protected Harvest isn’t just about potatoes anymore.

The San Diego-based nonprofit organization — which was created six years ago to certify spuds in Wisconsin’s Healthy Grown program — will soon be lending its seal to some big-name brands in the produce industry, including Modern Mushroom and the stone fruit label Ripe ’N Ready.

“It’s the culmination of several years of building relationships with different organizations and the growing consumer demand for green products,” said Daniel Sonke, Protected Harvest’s director of technical and scientific programs.

Sonke said Protected Harvest works with growers to develop and monitor standards for sustainable agriculture. The organization aims to protect and improve soil, water and air quality, preserve habitat, manage energy needs and reduce chemical use.

“We’ve been working with other commodities for quite some time,” Sonke said. “This past year has been the first time we’ve had a significant rollout of other crops.”

FreshSense, the Parlier, Calif.-based company that markets the Ripe ’N Ready brand, has certified 40% of its acreage, said president Blair Richardson. Its members, all from California, are Ballantine Produce Co. Inc., Sanger; Fowler Packing Co. Inc., Fowler; Sunwest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier; Kingsburg Orchards, Kingsburg; and George Bros. Inc., Sultana. They hope to have close to 100% of their product certified in time for next season, Richardson said.

Corrin Farming, Reedley, Calif., and HMC Marketing Group Inc., Kingsburg, have dropped out of the group, Richardson said.

In addition to the preconditioned Ripe ’N Ready line, Richardson said Fresh Sense will introduce the Zeal brand next year, a line of stone fruit that is certified by Protected Harvest but not preconditioned. Richardson said grapes and citrus eventually will be added to that line.

Both brands will debut with the Protected Harvest seal in late April or early May, when the California peach and nectarine harvests begin, Richardson said.

“Consumers are raising more questions about where their food came from and how it was produced,” he said. “We want to be on the forefront of answering those questions in the right way.”

Richardson said Fresh Sense has secured $300,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s value-added producer grant program and will use the money to help retailers educate consumers about sustainable agriculture.

Protected Harvest, meanwhile, has secured $3.5 million in research funding, including $800,000 from the National Wildlife & Fisheries Foundation.

Protected Harvest label stretches beyond spuds