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The Strawberry People

The Strawberry People

Up close, a strawberry is speckled with hundreds of tiny seeds, a perfect mosaic of fresh. Take a few steps back and it becomes a category staple, bedecking produce aisles across retailers nationwide. Step farther still, and you might find yourself in the fields of BlazerWilkinson, where farmers like Scott Blazer and John Wilkinson envisioned a strawberry operation that would highlight quality first.

Although they were longtime colleagues and industry veterans, John and Scott never could have imagined that the strawberries they began farming in 2003 would soon grow into a business that would stretch over 2,000 acres across the United States.

“We built out our purpose-driven business with one goal in mind: to produce the best quality strawberries on the market. Period,” explains Scott. “And to do this, you have to invest in the best land, the best people, and you have to implement only the best practices.”

In the heart of that land stands daughters, sons, and siblings, all of whom make up the BlazerWilkinson extended family.

“Because we are family and this is our livelihood, we are so involved in the day-to-day operations. That helps us keep up the quality in product, in people, and in practices,” Scott comments.

As farming in California’s Santa Maria Valley became an important piece of BlazerWilkinson’s business, the company tapped Kevin Gee, Vice President of Farming and Operations, Santa Maria, and his family to pursue growth in that region. Together, Kevin and the BlazerWilkinson team—alongside the Foxy brand—have garnered a great deal of attention from the industry.

One such reason is simple: the farms that Scott recalled earlier. Over the years, BlazerWilkinson has acquired more and more farms and today owns all—or large portions of—its farming operations from California to Florida.

“This is exceptionally important to us because quality doesn’t just come to you—you have to work for it. And we are meticulous across all facets of our operations, from farming to packing to sales. That way, we completely control quality, enabling us to produce only a superior product,” Kiana Wilkinson Amaral, General Manager, expresses. “Markets and trends change all the time: Weather is unpredictable, events occur that you can’t account for—as we’ve seen with COVID-19—but because our families are so involved, and have their finger on the pulse, we are able to react quickly to most changes that occur.”

Keeping a finger on the pulse of the industry is key, and that pulse jumps when it hears two hot buzzwords: sustainability and people. Both have greatly impacted the way BlazerWilkinson conducts itself—throughout its past and as it looks into the future.

“Strawberry farming...has embraced sustainable growing practices for quite some time.”

Kevin Gee, Vice President of Farming and Operations, Santa Maria, BlazerWilkinson

“What many people don’t realize is that farming, in general, is quite a sustainable industry. Strawberry farming, in particular, has embraced sustainable growing practices for quite some time. The plants are watered through drip irrigation systems, which allow for water and nutrients to be applied precisely where they are needed, saving hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per year,” Kevin shares. “Additionally, at the end of the crop season, the plants are tilled into the earth and a rotation crop, such as green vegetables, is planted in its place. The complementary rotation adds back nutrients and further conditions the soil with what it needs to create another flourishing crop.”

Driven by its own efforts to be more sustainable, as well as the demands of its customer base, BlazerWilkinson has increased its organic acreage by 100 percent over the last three years—no easy feat!

The most important sustainable action being taken? This is where BlazerWilkinson’s plan to roll out the use of 100-percent-recyclable clamshells comes in.

“We are proud to announce that over the course of 2020 and into 2021, we will transition to the use of fully recyclable packaging. Besides growing organically, the largest area where we can assist in reducing our carbon footprint is by modifying the types of packaging that we use,” says Kiana. “BlazerWilkinson has always pushed its packaging vendors towards testing out new technologies in recyclable plastics—independently, we have invested in companies that support such initiatives.”As I hear both Kiana and Kevin passionately express themselves about the company and the superior product it produces, I’m transported once more to the fields in which we walked at the beginning of this story and understand why Kiana, Kevin, and their families are so dedicated to the business—and why finding the right team is critical to growing a farming operation.

“Honest, hardworking people who always do their best are at the center of every successful operation.”

Kiana Wilkinson Amaral, General Manager, BlazerWilkinson

“The people are the heart of every business,” Kiana remarks. “Honest, hardworking people who always do their best are at the center of every successful operation. And yes, these people are hard to come by. As a company grows, it has to seek out and capture the right people for its team. Treating our employees kindly and fairly, offering steady work, and a great environment in which to do their job develops a sense of pride in the company they work for. Encouraging the employees to also assume the family passion of producing amazing strawberries has allowed us to create a really great team dedicated to making BlazerWilkinson, and the berries that we ship, the best that we can be.”

This has never rung more true for BlazerWilkinson and the industry than it does now, as the world has succumbed to the health concerns and economic upset associated with COVID-19.

“As food producers, we take this very seriously,” asserts Kiana. “Agriculture is an essential industry, and thus we, and the people who work for us, need to stay working throughout this situation. And we have been so pleased with the extent to which our family and employees have stepped up and continued their dedication to the work of feeding the world. We couldn’t be more proud of them and the product that we are all producing together.”

It’s impossible to step away from what’s truly at the heart of this strawberry operation: people. So, when I hold a Foxy strawberry in my hand I realize that the fruit itself is simply a part of the whole, and I’ve been lucky enough to see it firsthand. 

The Strawberry People