Astin builds worker housing

Sam Astin, the grower owner of Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC, Plant City, Fla., has constructed a worker camp adjacent to its new Wimauma, Fla., harvesting and cooling operations.

The H-2A camp includes 50 units that will house 400 workers, said Shawn Pollard, salesman.

Two years ago, before Astin began using the H-2A program, the grower-shipper experienced a 4% rejection rate from the 3.6 million cases it shipped, he said.

Last season, with H-2A, that rejection rate fell to 1.3%, Pollard said.

“Labor and H-2A are expensive, but with domestic labor not in place the alternative is not picking your crop,” he said.

“We can’t have a subpar product, and, with the skilled H-2A labor, it makes

the standards.”


Colorful Harvest expands acreage

Florida strawberries business updatesColorful Harvest LLC is farming its own acreage this season.

In the past, the Salinas, Calif.-based grower-shipper, which grows in Plant City, Fla., worked in joint ventures with other growers.

This season it’s farming its own production, said Jeremy Burris, vice president of sales and sourcing for the Florida division.

To help ship those berries, Colorful Harvest is using

new cold storage installed last season.

Though Burris declined to state the coolers’ square footage, he said the expansions enlarged its cooling capacity by 100% and allows the company to precool its own fruit.

In the past, Colorful Harvest used other coolers, and the new capacity should help it precool more fruit simultaneously, he said.


Ownership changes at Gulf Coast

Gulf Coast Produce Inc. has a new co-owner.

Steve Howard, a co-owner of Plant City, Fla.-based Sweet Life Farms LLC, is now a partner in Dover, Fla.-based Gulf Coast and and Gulf Coast Cooling Inc.

Howard now runs some of his fruit through the Gulf Coast operation, and his addition brings a fresh “let’s go” attitude to the company, said Steve Machell, sales manager.

Gulf Coast also is owned by grower Joe Gude.

The ownership change occurred after Goodson retired, Machell said.


Wish Farms sponsors picking challenge

Wish Farms is preparing for its second Strawberry Picking Challenge.

Last year, the Plant City, Fla.-based grower-shipper raised $75,000 for the Immokalee, Fla.-based Redlands Christian Migrant Association farmworker charity and this year, Wish Farms hopes to exceed that amount, said Amber Kosinsky, director of marketing.

Scheduled for Feb. 6-7 at a field southeast of Plant City, the event will not include an admission charge, she said.

Bright House Networks, a central Florida cable television operation, is again a presenting sponsor of the event.

The activity called attention not only to farmworkers’ hard work but also to the contributions RCMA makes to farmworkers’ children, Kosinsky said.

Last year, up to 20 corporate-sponsored teams competed in relays to win the “Best Harvest Crew” title.

This year, Wish Farms is looking for strong industry support from other growers as well, she said.

In other news, Wish Farms plans to grow 200 acres of organic strawberries, up from 160 acres last season.