Numerous marketing agents of organic fruits and vegetables see their wares as particularly valuable assets in a quest for sustainability.

It helps makes some sales, too, they say.

“I think consumers that have a goal of purchasing organics also see sustainability as something that’s also important,” said J.C. Clinard, vice president of grower relations with Plant City, Fla.-based grower-shipper Wish Farms. “I think they do align together, as far as what’s important to the consumer that has that mindset already.”


Role of organics

Sustainability should be akin to organics, since the concept sprang from organics, said Diane Dempster, manager of Farmer’s Own, the local organic program at Charlie’s Produce, a Seattle wholesaler.

“I think that organic is influencing some conventional growers to find a method of growing that might be better for the environment than they used before,” Dempster said.

Organics companies are consistently among the leaders in sustainability efforts, from agricultural practices and conservation to support for community gardens and food banks, said Christine Bushway, executive director of the Brattleboro, Vt.-based Organic Trade Association.

“In fact, many OTA member companies have received regional and national recognition for the steps they take in the sustainability arena,” she said.

Even if a company is not certified organic, it might be borrowing from the concept, which is all to the good, Dempster said.

“Sustainable also means environmentally friendly to some people, so it would be about transportation or energy consumption and some of those different things,” she said.

Both concepts conjure images of growers as thoughtful environmental stewards, said Jim Roberts, vice president of sales with Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC.


Conventional also on board

Roberts cautioned, however, that reality may not jibe with such perception, since conventional growers also are strong supporters of sustainability initiatives, Roberts said.

“Although that may or may not be the case, consumers see it that way: It’s better for the environment and even better for the crop. That’s what consumers see,” Roberts said.

The reality is that conventional farming has come a long way in its own land-stewardship efforts, Roberts said.

“They have the desire to reduce their usage on the conventional side, so they go to tools-integrated pest management,” he said.


Learning how to improve

Organics programs can offer lessons on how to do things a bit better on the conventional side, too, said Matt Seeley, vice president of marketing for Salinas, Calif.-based The Nunes Co.

“They all work hand in hand with what we’re trying to do with organics, and it helps our conventional growing, as well,” he said.

Tom Deardorff, president of Oxnard, Calif.-based conventional and organic vegetable grower-shipper Deardorff Family Farms, agreed.

“The organics fit nicely with the pillars of any sustainability program — the less-is-more approach toward inputs and chemicals and pesticides,” he said.

Sustainability also includes ensuring there are enough growers for future generations, too, said Earl Herrick, owner of Earl’s Organic, a San Francisco wholesale distributor.

“We have to maintain our farmland and also make sure our aging organic growers are getting the right exit strategy, so their farms are still viable for the next generation,” he said.