MARINA DEL REY, Calif. — When 17-year-old Zac Sunderland sailed into Marina Del Rey harbor July 16 as the youngest person to sail around the world solo, several members of the produce industry shared in his sense of accomplishment.

Produce for Kids, Orlando, Fla.; Mastronardi Produce Ltd., Kingsville, Ontario; and Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville, Ga., helped finance the teen's voyage. Mastronardi, which markets Sunset brand vegetables, provided him with nourishment in the form of greenhouse-grown tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers at various points on his voyage.

Sunderland, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., launched his venture from the same marina June 14, 2008, and overcame a boatload of challenges along the way that ranged from mechanical difficulties to menacing weather to threatening pirates.

Powered by produce industry, Sunderland sails the globe
                                                              Tom Burfield

Zac Sunderland, the youngest person to sail around the world solo, greets the media and supporters on the completion of his voyage in Marina Del Rey, Calif., July 16. His adventure was sponsored in part by Produce for Kids, Orlando, Fla.; Mastronardi Produce Ltd., Kingsville, Ontario; and Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville, Ga.

Sleep deprivation was his biggest challenge, he told a throng of media, civic officials and enthusiastic supporters who greeted him as he made land for the last time.

The first thing he planned to do on his return, he said, was to "hang out with my friends" - something he hadn't been able to do for more than a year.

He said he was looking forward to enjoying fresh produce on a regular basis once again after surviving largely on canned and freeze-dried food.

Shortly after he docked, the American Sailing Association verified his record as the first person under 18 to solo-circumnavigate the globe in a sailboat - a feat accomplished by fewer than 250 people of any age in modern times.

Sunderland's 40,000-mile odyssey took him to four continents and across three oceans and five seas.

Produce for Kids was a sponsor because the organization perceived Sunderland as an inspiration for other youngsters to follow their dreams and live a healthful lifestyle, said Kari Volyn, director of communications.

Besides some financial backing, the association provided Sunderland's 36-foot sailboat, the Intrepid, with a sail adorned with the Produce for Kids logo and offered the help of nutritionist Dave Grotto, who helped him devise an eating plan that would help him stay fit and deal with fatigue and soreness, she said.

Mastronardi wanted to be part of a "unique program that would promote healthy eating in kids," said Chris Veillon, marketing manager.

The adventure goes hand in hand with the company's new Sunset Kidz product line that launches in late August and includes kid-size packs of Mimi brand "candy" tomatoes and Mimi "candy" cucumbers that will retail for about 99 cents, he said.

The adventure was a good fit for Produce for Kids, because fruits and vegetables are grown around the world and other youngsters can, in their own way, explore the world through produce, Volyn said.

Sunderland said his experience showed that children don't have to be pigeonholed into traditional sports and activities - "they can do anything they want."