As 2020 approached, the Fanjul family and their company, Florida Crystals Corporation, looked forward to celebrating their 60th anniversary farming and producing homegrown foods in Palm Beach County, Florida. But, shortly into the new year, plans quickly changed as COVID-19 closures caused job losses and economic hardship, and the need to support local families became critical.
As a producer of staple foods, including sugar and rice, Florida Crystals’ doors have remained open throughout the crisis. Company leaders have been focused on safeguarding their employees while also meeting the needs of consumers, and supporting the communities they have called home for the past six decades.
“Our hearts truly go out to all the families who are hurting during this terrible pandemic,” said Pepe Fanjul, Jr., Executive Vice President of Florida Crystals. “Amid the hardships caused by this public health emergency, my family and our company pledge to do all we can to support our communities. As an agricultural company, our relief programs have been geared toward our expertise: feeding people.”
Florida Crystals has strengthened its partnerships with nonprofits, like Feeding South Florida and the Palm Beach County Food Bank, to leverage their strong food-distribution networks to ensure food supplies reach the families who need it most. The company has donated more than 60,000 pounds of rice and 80,000 pounds of sugar to COVID-19 relief in South Florida. Company employees have also volunteered to glean—or harvest leftover produce—from neighboring farms with the donations filling the pantries of the Food Bank.
The closure of restaurants in cities, like New York, throughout the northeast also gave rise to an innovative program from the Palm Beach Civic Association (PBCA), called “Save Our Produce” that has delivered excess farm-fresh produce to the tables of families who need it most.
“Our farming region in Palm Beach County is the largest grower of winter vegetables in the nation and supplies the entire eastern United States,” said Fanjul. “Our farmers’ major markets are restaurants in big cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia. When they closed, it left a large volumes of local sweet corn, cabbage, lettuce and more without a home.”
After hearing about the plight of local farmers, PBCA President Mary Robosson contacted Fanjul, who connected the organization with local farmers. Through the generosity of donors in the Town of Palm Beach, including the Fanjul family, the “Save Our Produce” initiative covers local farmers’ harvesting, packaging and transportation costs and ensures the fresh produce, which would have gone to waste, is delivered to families through the expertise of the Food Bank. By Memorial Day, the program had supplied 14,000 boxes filled with locally grown, nutritious foods, including lettuce, tomatoes, blueberries, collard greens, kale, sweet corn, bell peppers, zucchini and cucumbers. The “Save Our Produce” program has shown how even in the worst of times, people can come together in a wonderful spirit of collaboration to help each other.