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Changing the Narrative

Changing the Narrative

Miles Kington once said, “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” Yet, we as an industry continue to defy the norms, breaking preconceived notions. Just because things have always been a specific way doesn’t mean they have to stay as such.

Like our produce professionals, consumers want to maintain an open-minded approach when viewing the whole produce aisle, punctuating de facto meals with innovative spins for the dinner table.

With that same mindset, industry pioneers, too, are continuing to change a narrative that states growers and farmworkers can thrive on low margins, that they are helpless against the damage natural disasters cause, and that sustainability is a passing phase.

Jacobs Farm del Cabo (JFDC) is one such producer picking up the quill of change, rewriting the story for a more optimal outcome for not only its own workers but the end consumer as well—and JFDC’s ClimateLab is just one chapter the quill has penned.

“Since Larry Jacobs and Sandra Belin founded JFDC, farmers have always been the first and foremost priority for the company. Our mission has been to improve the quality of life for the people in our smallholder farming organization, and we’ve been very successful at doing just that. Whether it’s helping them build up their organic farming operations or increasing their access to customers, at the end of the day, it’s really been about farmer livelihoods,” Aaron Brookes, Director of Sales and Marketing, informs me. “ClimateLab was built with the goal of keeping those farmers at the forefront of our minds when considering what’s at stake amidst climate change. You can imagine what impacts such as heat, drought, storms, or soil health have had on their communities. So, our goal is really twofold: How do we provide the right tools, insights, and guidance to help smallholder farms adapt? And, as growers, what other steps can we take to collectively mitigate our contributions to climate change?”

Jacobs Farm del Cabo’s story began in 1980 when Jacobs Farm—a small organic family farm in California—dedicated itself to growing fresh, high-quality, delicious food without damaging the environment. Five years later, a trip to Mexico brought kindred spirits together and, alongside a small group of farmers, Larry and Sandy founded the del Cabo grower collective. Today, del Cabo represents the hard, hands-in-the-soil work of more than 1,250 farming families across 14 communities.

“...our goal is really twofold: How do we provide the right tools, insights, and guidance to help smallholder farms adapt? And, as growers, what other steps can we take to collectively mitigate our contributions to climate change?”

Aaron Brookes, Director of Sales and Marketing, Jacobs Farm del Cabo

Over the years, JFDC has observed how many of its small producers have found it difficult to maintain their production volumes and financial resilience. In many cases, the challenges are environmental, including the depleting quality of soil, significant rises and falls in temperature, destruction of infrastructure from fire and flood, and more. However, there was a plot twist: The company also identified some producers who maintained productivity and financial resilience, despite going through the same environmental changes and natural disasters as those who were struggling.

“At JFDC, we believe that a sustainable future is possible only when producers can be economically sustainable,” illustrates Maricela Adrian, Certification Manager and ClimateLab Program Manager. “These observations inspired the idea of creating an internal standard to document and implement sustainable practices that have been proven and effective by these small producers for more than 40 years, with all JFDC producers in Mexico and the U.S. We are improving productivity at all our ranches; reducing our environmental footprint generated by agriculture; and maintaining healthy soils and prosperous communities, which all leads to happy workers.”

Jacobs Farm del Cabo refined its focus with the novel establishment of its ClimateLab program in 2020, reemphasizing its triple bottom line of profit, people, and planet across production areas in Mexico and the U.S.

ClimateLab has a centralized leadership group to drive the initiatives across all of JFDC’s farming operations. The program is designed to collect data from all farms and apply the learnings to each unique need, sharing knowledge and insight across each community.

“There may be a particular soil issue in one farm, or there may be extreme heat swings in another, but the more data we collect, the more help we can give to each farmer,” explains Aaron. “We are developing a broad set of tools to address all these issues as we dig down into each microclimate our farmers exist in. And, in this way, we can drive general awareness to what’s happening in and around them. We’re excited to continue our sustainability efforts with our growers in mind—the same way we have done it for 40 years and always will.”

In doing so, JFDC positions itself as a company that works hand-in-hand with its growers in its own unique way, creating standards that meet real needs. By keeping the soil healthy and learning how to grow economically, Jacobs Farm del Cabo can help its farmers mitigate the impacts of climate change.

“Compared to other industries that have sustainability programs, JFDC does not want to just impose international rules,” Maricela notes emphatically. “We truly want to help our growers, gain recognition from our customers, end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure all enjoy peace and prosperity. Through our ClimateLab program, we are creating—and maintaining—a standard that our products are ‘made by small producers, for small producers.’ JFDC focuses on meeting their producers’ needs in terms of social responsibility, financial resilience, and environmental sustainability.”

For those looking to create their own program to align with these environmental goals, some tips these experts share are to get active and listen to your growers.

“A lot of the things we talk about are what farmers face every day in terms of managing their resources and trying to project and predict what’s going to happen,” says Aaron. “Even as a smallholder, you can take steps to progress your farm forward and set yourself up for success down the road and become a more successful operation. We have seen some good results come out of it.”

“We are improving productivity at all our ranches; reducing our environmental footprint generated by agriculture; and maintaining healthy soils and prosperous communities, which all leads to happy workers.”

Maricela Adrian, Certification Manager and ClimateLab Program Manager, Jacobs Farm del Cabo

Listening to these needs is essential to JFDC. Without their vital input in the creation process, their story wouldn’t have a happy ending. And, as we know, the pen is mightier than the sword. For hard workers like Maricela, working for JFDC is as inspiring as any hero story.

“Working for a company like JFDC is refreshing. It has a strong conviction to create social and environmental awareness. In my last 14 years of professional experience, I have worked with numerous agricultural companies. To date, I have not met any other company for which its sincere objective is to create abundance in every way for small producers and communities,” Maricela asserts. “The love and desire to help that Larry and Sandy have for their producers are incredible. It’s for this reason I have stayed for so many years. I hope to continue to do my part so that this sentiment can grow within ClimateLab and continue to be replicated.”

Larry and Sandra began the story of JFDC with an open-minded approach, and that intent is still alive today. In the course of 40 years, the company has established the precedent that growers should be the foremost priority, that there are ways to work with Mother Nature instead of fighting her, and that sustainability is evergreen.

The ClimateLab chapter is far from over, and the results of the company’s work are written for the world to see. When shoppers see the labels ‘Jacobs Farm’ and ‘del Cabo’ on retailers’ shelves, they’ll know that they’re buying a product built on sustainability and equity. Jacobs Farm del Cabo is a supplier that is breaking the status quo, continuously rewriting expectations, and creating the happily ever after we all seek. 

Changing the Narrative