The expectations and values of consumers continue to evolve, with more and more Canadians realizing they can affect positive change by supporting brands that take sustainability and social responsibility to heart. When it comes to assessing food choices, knowledge is power, believes Dan Latka, director of sales and marketing at Crofter’s Organic.
“We are bombarded with hundreds of marketing messages a day, and we lose sight of where our goods come from; but unlike other consumer products, such as tech gadgets or clothing, food comes from one place and one place only: nature,” he says.
In order to make informed decisions, consumers have to look closely at how their food is grown and produced, and such a scrutiny is welcomed by the Latka family – Gerhard, Gabi, Sebastian, Luke and Dan – who are passionate about creating organic fruit spreads with sustainability in mind.
Many consumers primarily see organics as a way of improving one’s health, and for good reason. After all, harmful chemicals used in conventional agriculture are prohibited in organic food production, says Dan. “We owe it to our customers to double check, just to be sure,” he says. “We test all incoming ingredients for the absence of 415 herbicides and pesticides with our own high-performance liquid chromatograph that can detect residues as low as 0.3 parts per billion.”
Yet the benefits of organic go beyond our health, says Gerhard Latka, the founder of Crofter’s. “In 1989, when Crofter’s began producing organic fruit spreads, federal organic regulations didn’t exist. We followed early holistic, comprehensive organic codes, which included not only sustainable agriculture, but also fair trade sourcing, social responsibility and sustainable production methods,” he recalls. “When the government did regulate organic, it focused on which substances and ingredients are allowable or prohibited, but the fair trade and sustainability elements were not included. Today, we continue in our commitment to give consumers something more than organic by going beyond the minimum and making fair trade and sustainability a priority.”
In conventional agriculture, monoculture growing operations rely heavily on synthetic fertilizers to increase yields, taking a toll on the quality of soil, says Gerhard. “In simple terms, they are taking out more than they put back in. When the soil loses fertility and pests become resistant to chemicals, it typically triggers increased input of the agri-chemicals that are causing the problem in the first place. This creates a vicious cycle.”
Although this is an extremely complex and challenging issue, organic agriculture is part of the solution, since it greatly reduces the rate at which soil fertility is depleted and promotes more balanced agricultural methods, he explains. And while organic is not considered “regenerative agriculture,” a term gaining much recognition in the sustainable farming world, it paves the way for manufacturers and growers alike to adopt more environmentally conscious methods.
In addition to being wholly committed to organic production practices (100 per cent of the company’s output is certified organic), Crofter’s is also dedicated to maintaining high ethical standards in its engagement with growers and producers. “One of the most important aspects of any food manufacturing business is [its] supply chain,” says Sebastian Latka, manager of supply chain for Crofter’s Organic. “Being a pioneer of the organic movement, we have been fortunate to form great relationships with some of the best fruit growers and processors around the world.”
An example of the impact of international collaboration comes from one of the key suppliers for raspberries and blackberries, he explains. “This is not a monoculture farm – it is a co-operative system comprised of hundreds of small family farmers located in the mountainous southwest region of Serbia.”
The co-operation of all parties, including growers, processors and manufacturers, enables a way of life that would otherwise not be sustainable, says Sebastian. “This network allows small family farms to continue their traditional way of life, spending their summers tending to small farms in the beautiful mountains,” he says. “A state-of-the-art processing facility enables them to individually quick-freeze the berries as soon as they make their way down from the mountain side.”
Where and how fruit is grown has a big impact on quality, says Sebastian. “You can’t beat the taste and nutrition of organic fruit that has been grown with traditional methods by families who have been working with nature for generations.”
Crofter’s exclusive supplier of fair trade cane sugar, the Green Cane Project of Brazil, embodies every aspect of ethical and sustainable agriculture, according to Sebastian. “They have transformed an industry that is normally destructive to the environment and socially unethical into a globally recognized example of sustainable, organic agriculture succeeding on a large scale,” he says. “Not only do they provide fair and equitable wages, they also ensure that families have access to safe housing, health care and schooling for children. What they have accomplished in terms of sustainable agriculture is nothing short of remarkable.”
Through forward-thinking practices like green harvesting and innovative pest management programs, the Green Cane Project has been able to restore soil fertility in the fields to the levels of virgin rainforests, Sebastian adds. “Today, they are the world’s largest organic cane sugar producer, proving that organic and sustainable practices can improve productivity.”
With attention to all aspects of production – including the entire supply chain – the family business is hoping to make a difference, says Dan. “We believe that by doing what is right, we will continue to see success as a business and leave a positive impact on the industry and the planet.”
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.