Grower, billionaire plan to ‘revolutionize fresh food availability’


Paul Mastronardi, Sunset Produce president and CEO.


Courtesy of Sunset Produce, Darren Kemper ©2015 / Windsor Star

Kingsville-based greenhouse giant Mastronardi Produce is partnering with an American billionaire philanthropist to make local fresh foods a growing reality in underserved markets around the globe.

Their plan is to make available customized high-tech “farming systems” that take advantage of such innovations as water-saving irrigation, energy efficient lighting and other sustainable growing practices and technology.

“We believe everyone should have healthy and fresh produce options,” company president and CEO Paul Mastronardi said in a news release Wednesday. He’s the fourth-generation family member leading Mastronardi Produce, which bills itself as North America’s largest grower of greenhouse produce such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, with over 4,000 acres of greenhouse capacity in Essex County, the U.S. and Mexico.

“I want to help revolutionize this industry so more people have access to fresh produce,” said John Paul Dejoria, a self-described rags-to-riches “serial entrepreneur” who went from being a homeless person to building two billion-dollar brands, as well as several other global enterprises.

In their partnership announcement, DeJoria said it was a shared “passion for disruptive innovation” that brought the two parties together. He said it was through a fellow trailblazer that he “finally found the opportunity” to launch such an initiative.

“We saw the potential to work together on this global high-tech farming initiative, which will focus on growing healthy food where it’s needed most,” said Mastronardi.

The partnership will look at developing advanced high-density farming systems, described as “individual collections of existing and developing high-tech growing innovations and equipment.” Each such system would include “cutting-edge growing facilities, revolutionary automation, water-saving irrigation, energy efficient lighting and state-of-the-art systems for monitoring growing conditions.”

Both have a passion for social accountability and environmental sustainability

With an estimated personal net worth of $3.5 billion, DeJoria is the co-founder and chairman of John Paul Mitchell Systems, the global luxury hair care brand. Also the co-founder of Patron Spirits International, last year he sold his majority stake in that tequila business to Bacardi Ltd. in a multibillion-dollar deal.

DeJoria’s motto is “success unshared is failure,” and he has dedicated himself to numerous charitable causes. He has signed “The Giving Pledge,” a campaign founded by über-rich tycoons Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, in which a growing list of billionaires have committed to contributing a majority of their wealth to philanthropy.

Mastronardi Produce is the single-largest greenhouse grower in Essex County and employs more than 600 workers locally. The business is consistently ranked as one of the best-managed companies in Canada, and Paul Mastronardi is a former Entrepreneur of the Year in Ontario and was named Produce Person of the Year at the 2016 United Fresh Exposition in Chicago.

“John Paul and Paul both have a passion for social accountability and environmental sustainability,” said Mastronardi Produce marketing vice-president Nicole Balderas. “At its core, this is about increasing access to healthy living and to healthy foods.”

According to Balderas, DeJoria, based in Austin, Texas, was excited with the idea of bringing more sustainable, affordable and healthier fresh foods to underserved markets and he heard about Mastronardi’s pioneering efforts in the greenhouse sector. The two men then met at DeJoria’s home and discovered a shared passion.

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Most people in North America are fortunate in that they have relatively easy access to fresh and healthy foods, said Balderas. Transportation is a big factor in the cost and availability of fresh produce.

“Here, we’re bringing the food source close to where it’s needed,” she said.

The revolution announced this week is in its “early days,” she added, with a “wide variety” of potential target locations currently being evaluated and the advanced high-density farming systems still under development.

dschmidt@postmedia.com

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