At Organics Unlimited, we are proud to be, not only be a family business, but also female owned and run, upholding a legacy that has spanned four generations of organic banana growers. Our history has shaped us into the company we are today, instilling strong values associated with social responsibility. Four generations of our family have been organic growers, so we have a strong appreciation for the craft and growers’ unique needs.
While the times have certainly changed, our commitment to high-quality produce and our growers hasn’t.
Keep reading to learn more about the early days of the organic movement, the formation of Organics Unlimited as we know it today, and how our GROW program is making a difference in the lives of our workers.
The US Organic Movement and Strong Family Roots
Back in the 1970s, our family was among the first pioneers of the organic movement in the United States. After being approached by an optimistic American in 1972, the 2nd generation of organic banana growers in the family started marketing organic bananas in the United States – a first for its time. This visionary saw a bright future for organic produce within the States, despite the fact that many Americans did not know of the benefits or, merely, of its existence.
For us though, organic was simply “the way we’d always grown food.” We wanted to share our love of high-quality, all-natural produce with the world and, thus, the foundation of our legacy was created.
Our current CEO, Mayra Velazquez de Leon, became involved in organic bananas in the late 1970s when she’d work with her father over the summers, helping process orders and accompanying him on co-op deliveries in the early days of organics in the US—the revolutionary days of Birkenstocks and grassroots efforts. While the trends faded into history, the growing demand for organic produce in America certainly didn’t.
When it came time for her parents to retire, Mayra made the decision to establish Organics Unlimited in 2000. From humble beginnings to rising as one of the top suppliers of organic bananas, Organics Unlimited still operates under the guiding principles established by our founders. Most recently, in 2018, Daniella Velazquez de Leon joined as the 4th generation of organic banana growers, continuing the legacy by following in her mother’s footsteps.
Our Commitment to Small Growers
Social responsibility is, and always has been, the backbone that supports everything we do. Since our inception, the founders’ mission was to build healthier communities, not only through organic produce but by giving back to the communities we touched. In 2005, the GROW program was established with the goal to create a better quality of life for the banana growing communities.
Growing in the age of early organic culture, we knew from the onset that this was a community effort. As pioneers in the region, we created networks of small growers, who we helped train in organic best practices and guided throughout the organic certification process.
To date, we maintain long-standing partnerships with local small growers from whom we purchase their entire yearly production. In a region where the poverty level is significant, this ensures their income and security while guaranteeing supply for our clients year-round. While small growers retain their autonomy and independence, by partnering with GROW, they are given greater market power to ensure fair pricing.
GROW – True Fair Trade Label
GROW is a fair trade label, it was created to protect and help break the cycle of poverty of banana growing regions which have been regularly oppressed by large multi-national corporations.
This program allows us to support small growers and farm workers by ensuring fair wages, pricing and the pooling of a network of stakeholders (small growers and farm workers) who would normally have a much smaller amount of negotiating power. This empowers them to advocate for values-based purchasing in order to secure the true cost of their produce.
In addition, we are able to guarantee that all of our growers have safe working conditions where they will not be exposed to harmful chemicals and pesticides typically found in conventional farms.
If you tend to purchase organic products, chances are you’ve seen fair trade labels. Unlike other commonly known fair trade programs, GROW does not charge any fees or certification costs for using the label. In fact, GROW does not cost growers anything at all.
For every case sold, 60 cents is directly added to the GROW fund which is then given back to the communities. In order to ensure transparency, this operation is overseen and managed by the International Community Foundation, a third-party entity completely separate from Organics Unlimited’s operations.
What GROW Means to Growers
As corporate multinationals capitalize on the growing health food trend in the United States, we are seeing more and more big companies entering this region, which had been previously untouched by large agri-business. Now, it’s more important than ever to support small growers in our neighboring country to avoid what’s so often happened across other banana producing countries: the control of the market through unfair market pricing.
With a primary focus on education, GROW is breaking the cycle of poverty that has proliferated as a result of corporate greed. Through much needed scholarships, we are able to provide workers’ children an opportunity out of poverty to then, in turn, put them in a position where that allows them to give back to their community.
Each GROW operation is tailored to the unique community it targets. Funding, not only contributes to improving education, but also to covering health care, ensuring these communities have access to clean water and maintaining the integrity of the environment. At the end of the day, our growers are the heart of our business and the experts of their craft, and we do everything in our power to advocate for their voice.
Here at Organics Unlimited, we believe that the healthiest and most sustainable tropical fruits are grown organically. Social responsibility is of our utmost priority which is why we developed a program that ensures true fair trade practices and not only helps provide high quality, organic produce to our consumers but also helps support the workers on our banana farms and people living in the surrounding communities.
What is GROW
In 2005, we developed GROW, a program that provides funding for various social responsibility programs and provides opportunities that create a better life for the workers on our banana farms and the people living in the surrounding communities. The families that live in the agricultural areas of Mexico and Ecuador typically live in poverty. GROW helps provide educational opportunities, dental and vision support, clean drinking water, discounted milk for growing children, and opportunities for small business owners and people who need it the most. We also take environmental sustainability seriously and feel it is our responsibility to farm using organic, sustainable methods to improve the environment, the health of our workers, and to provide the healthiest and tastiest produce for our consumers. On top of our own sustainable systems, we also provide funding for organizations that share our passion for preserving natural resources and creating a healthy environment for future generations.
Fairly Traded Bananas
Unlike other commonly known fair trade programs, GROW does not charge any fees to the growers and does not set minimum prices which often cause growers to lose bargaining power in market. The additional $0.60 paid per case by customers goes directly to the growing communities to provide much needed resources they would otherwise not have. 90% of the money we get from GROW funds go directly to community initiatives and 10% gets saved in our natural disaster fund. Our programs are breaking the cycle of poverty through much needed scholarships and we get regular feedback from our GROW scholars talking about the impact our program has had on their lives and communities.
At Organics Unlimited, we are dedicated to serving those in need and providing much needed opportunities for the workers on our banana farms and the surrounding communities. Social responsibility is the backbone of our company, which is why we developed the following programs within GROW:
Education is very important to us, and unfortunately, attending school is a rare thing in rural areas of Mexico and Ecuador. We are honored to be able to give children from banana growing communities the opportunity to attend school. Our GROW program provides student housing, homework clubs, and scholarships to middle school, high school, and university students. 90% of GROW scholars graduate college and many become leaders within their communities.
We teach young members of the community key business skills and how to form a business plan. We also provide micro-loans to enable them to create thriving businesses that will benefit their families and the communities they live in for years to come. In one instance, a young boy who was working on the streets as a clown was able to develop a business plan and secure a micro-loan through the program and now owns a successful clown business for children’s parties.
Disaster Relief Funds
We set aside a small portion of funds for immediate access when communities are impacted by natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes that can quickly devastate the communities affected by them. In recent years these funds provided relief to those affected by the 7.1 magnitude 2017 Mexico earthquake as well as helping those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
We provide vision and dental clinics for readily available health care to the communities that don’t typically have medical resources like those.
Clean Water Program
Our GROW program provides filtering facilities, storage, and education to residents on appropriate drinking water practices.
We also provide fortified, powdered milk which families can buy at GROW study centers for 50% less than what the government charges. The distribution is part of a community service project for GROW scholars.
Our goal is to help create an ecosystem that can continue to fill the needs of future generations, so making environmentally sustainable choices is very important to us. In 2015, in the wake of some devastating storms, Organics Unlimited set aside a portion of all GROW funds and created a disaster relief program. This money can be distributed quickly through established aid organizations in both Mexico and Ecuador. GROW also provided a grant to Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) in 2016. EHC is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to improving health and protecting the environment in communities in the San Diego and Tijuana region. That grant was the start of an ongoing partnership between GROW and the Environmental Health Coalition that will continue building for years to come.
We also make other efforts towards taking care of our environment by using river water or water from wells onsite that helps us avoid the need for artificial irrigation. We compost onsite that helps minimize waste and we use stalks and leaves from harvested bananas to care for our produce sustainably. At Organics Unlimited, we never use harsh chemicals and pesticides. Since our warehouse is in the San Diego/Tijuana region, we are the best local option for bananas in the US. Our harvest to warehouse cycle is only a few days compared to more common averages in the two-week range, which means fresher bananas and a much lower carbon footprint. Read more about our sustainability efforts here.
Not only do we care about providing the freshest and most delicious organic produce around, but we are constantly making efforts to help the people living in communities around our farms. Here at Organics Unlimited, we are continuously improving to exceed client expectations and produce the healthiest, freshest organic produce available.