The History of Organics Unlimited and the GROW Program

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.

banana farmers and GROW program

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.

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