Visit to Organic Avocado Farm and Packing House in Michoacán, Mexico

Part 1: Leonel and the Packing House

Keith Agoada

In August I had the privilege of spending three days in Michoacán, Mexico visiting with Leonel Chavez, Owner and CEO of Michoacan Organics an export wholesaler dedicated to organic avocado supply chain and sales to the United States.

Leonel is a pioneer in organic avocados in Mexico with more than 20 years experience growing using organic practices. He has also now integrated biodynamic practices for the past six years. He has a unique farming method he calls "Farming for Life." Leonel's 10 brothers and sisters, and mom also grow avocados.

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Leonel Chavez, CEO of Michocan Organics

Leonel picked me up late in the evening at the Guadalajara airport, and as usual we stopped for some tacos en route to Uruapan, Mexico. After a few hours of sleep, and a few more hand made tacos and some fresh squeezed orange juice for breakfast, we were ready for our first visit of this trip; to an avocado packing house.

The packing facility was located right outside of downtown Uruapan (the world capital of haas avocado.) We first sat down with the owner to learn about his company history, and their impressive growth over the last 10 years. They now pack for several leading distributors in the US, in addition to a top level retailer, and importers from countries in Europe and Asia.

Although capacity at the facility is limited for much of the year, the owner seemed to know Leonel well, and agreed to make space to pack avocados for the Michoacan Organics brand owned by Leonel, in order to fulfill our buying needs in the US. The packing house consisted of two identical buildings with identical machinery separated by a see through glass wall. Since it was the "low season" on our visit, only one of the buildings was in use.

It was interesting to follow the flow of the avocado movement in the facility from arrival to being fully packed and in the refrigerated area ready for transport. First, avocados arrive packed in reusable plastic crates and enter the facility in the receiving area. The avocados are moved from the quarantine receivables on dollies to a large machine that cleans, and automatically sorts the avocados. Workers manually unload the avocados unto the machine. First there is an automated brush that cleans the avocado, and then they move down the conveyor belt to a sophisticated computer that automatically sorts the avocados by weight and size.

For wholesale distribution in the United States Avocados are generally packed into 25 lb boxes of 32s, 36s, 40s, 48s, 60s, 70s, 84s. The numbers refer to the quantity of avocados in each box. Once weighed, the machined automatically shoots the avocados to a designated area where all the avocados of the same size class are organized. In these designated areas mostly female workers rapidly pack the avocados into the boxes, while simultaneously sorting out first class and second class avocados for each size.

Mexican Organic Avocados 20 Box
Mexican Organic Avocados 20 Box

Leonel explained to me the importance of using stronger, more expensive boxes. If you use a cheaper box that isn't sturdy the boxes at the bottom of the pallet can start to break and it can damage the avocados. "Buyers can ask for discounts when this happens."

Following the thorough tour from the packing house owner and sales manager, we sat down once again in the owner's office to talk some more business.

As is common in Michoacan about half of the actual conversation is business, the other half is talking about their families, travel plans, and trends within the avocado market. On very little sleep I drank a black tea, however, Leonel who I am convinced isn't human doesn't drink any form of caffeine, even on a few hours of sleep.

After concluding our business meeting and tour of the packing house, it was time to drive out to our first farm visit with Leonel's mom, Maria.

Part 2: Breakfast at Rinconcito
Keith Agoada

After completing our visit to the packing facility Leonel expressed his desire to have a proper breakfast before visiting his mom's farm. Apparently the tacos and orange juice didn't fulfill Leonel's appetite. I usually start my day with juice, some fruit, or perhaps a smoothie. So the big Mexican breakfast is a bit outs

 
Part 3: Maria's Organic Avocado Farm
Keith Agoada

In many ways I regard Maria as the mother of organic avocado farming in Mexico, and deservedly so. She is the mother of 11 kids who all grow avocados, and now she has grandkids that are growing organic avocados.

She raised her family on a self sufficient family farm in rural Michoacan, Mexico. Everything was grown for fam

 

Visit to Organic Avocado Farm and Packing House in Michoacán, Mexico

Part 2: Breakfast at Rinconcito

Keith Agoada

Map of Mexico showing Michoacán
Michoacán, Mexico

After completing our visit to the packing facility Leonel expressed his desire to have a proper breakfast before visiting his mom's farm. Apparently the tacos and orange juice didn't fulfill Leonel's appetite. I usually start my day with juice, some fruit, or perhaps a smoothie. So the big Mexican breakfast is a bit outside of my routine. However, I am always mentally, and sometimes physically prepared for my visits to Michoacan. I love Mexican food.

Being the wonderful host he is Leonel asked me if I wanted to go to Rinconcito for breakfast, probably my favorite restaurant in all of Mexico. Rinconcito is a casual sit down family restaurant that is very well known in Uruapan. It is owned by an avocado grower, and they are known for their molcajete. Instead of bread and butter to start the meal, they provided us with fresh tortillas, avocado, and hot sauce.

For this trip to Mexico, for the first time I can remember I shaved my face and left a thick mustache. I figured I could get a laugh out of Leonel and his associates, and perhaps even gain some respect for a respectable mustache.

After downing some fresh carrot juice, and eating some sautéed local veggies with tortillas, pico de gallo salsa, and more avocado, Leonel's oldest son, Leonel, joined us at the restaurant. Leonel Jr is also an avocado farmer and manufacturer of organic fertilizers which he sells to his family's farms and other growers in the region. Leonel Jr showed up and talked business with his dad for a bit.

It's taken four years of working with Leonel to be able to understand well his dialect of Spanish. Some of my Colombian and Panamanian friends who know Leonel have trouble understanding his Spanish, so I definitely tap myself on the back for being a gringo who can communicate well with rural farmers from Michoacan!

Leonel Jr. surprised me with a special gift after the breakfast. He presented me with some "Miel de Aguacate" or "Avocado Honey." Basically, it's honey that has been collected from bee hives at the avocado farm, and has a unique flavor that has some avocado notes.

Part 1: Leonel and the Packing House
Keith Agoada

In August I had the privilege of spending three days in Michoacán, Mexico visiting with Leonel Chavez, Owner and CEO of Michoacan Organics an export wholesaler dedicated to organic avocado supply chain and sales to the United States.

Leonel is a pioneer in organic avocados in Mexico with more than 20 years experience grow

 
Part 3: Maria's Organic Avocado Farm
Keith Agoada

In many ways I regard Maria as the mother of organic avocado farming in Mexico, and deservedly so. She is the mother of 11 kids who all grow avocados, and now she has grandkids that are growing organic avocados.

She raised her family on a self sufficient family farm in rural Michoacan, Mexico. Everything was grown for fam

 

Visit to Organic Avocado Farm and Packing House in Michoacán, Mexico

Part 3: Maria's Organic Avocado Farm

Keith Agoada

In many ways I regard Maria as the mother of organic avocado farming in Mexico, and deservedly so. She is the mother of 11 kids who all grow avocados, and now she has grandkids that are growing organic avocados.

She raised her family on a self sufficient family farm in rural Michoacan, Mexico. Everything was grown for family consumption, and any leftovers were bartered in town. Now her family has over 800 hectares of avocado production, and one of her sons owns a packing house.

Maria
Maria

Maria is located about 30 minutes outside of Uruapan and is managing her 7 hectare organic avocado farm. Leonel and I drove into her property just as Maria was finishing the foliar spraying of her biofertilizer fermented preparations. These preparations consists of plant materials from her farm, fermented overtime with molasses (to activate the microorganisms.) For a woman of 75 years I was impressed to see her work the machine.

As always Maria greeted us with a huge smile, and a big hug as she was happy to see her son Leonel. Right away we walked the avocado farm with Maria as she wanted Leonel's opinion on a young tree that was getting eaten by insects. Leonel gave her advice, which was to let the insects eat the tree, and to focus her energy on saving the trees around it. I'm not sure if Maria agreed with his strategy, but it was a cool moment to be a part of.

We then walked back to Maria's farm house where she gave us a tour of her organic vegetable garden. Leonel harvested some tomato and chayote. We took it back to her outdoor kitchen. Leonel cut the chayote, added fresh lime juice and sea salt. We then cut tomatoes and avocados, and made mini chayote sandwiches. Looking out at the view of the mountains in the distance, I felt blessed to be in Mexico.

On this trip I decided to purchase 10 bars of Maria's homemade organic avocado soap. She told me that many years ago she had a dream that one day she would be old and have nothing to do and would be bored. After waking from the dream she decided to take destiny into her own hands, and began pursuing her soap business. For three years she has created formulas, featuring her avocados, mamey and the herbs from her garden. Maria's skin is always glowing. She gives credit to her soap. Once she felt the formula was perfected she began gifting the soap to some family and friends. Now there is a following of people in Uruapan who only use Maria's soap to wash their face.

Part 1: Leonel and the Packing House
Keith Agoada

In August I had the privilege of spending three days in Michoacán, Mexico visiting with Leonel Chavez, Owner and CEO of Michoacan Organics an export wholesaler dedicated to organic avocado supply chain and sales to the United States.

Leonel is a pioneer in organic avocados in Mexico with more than 20 years experience grow

 
Part 2: Breakfast at Rinconcito
Keith Agoada

After completing our visit to the packing facility Leonel expressed his desire to have a proper breakfast before visiting his mom's farm. Apparently the tacos and orange juice didn't fulfill Leonel's appetite. I usually start my day with juice, some fruit, or perhaps a smoothie. So the big Mexican breakfast is a bit outs

 

Welcome to the Producers Market Blog

Introduction Part 1

Keith Agoada

Hello everyone, my name is Keith Agoada. I am a co-founder of Producers Market. We've started this blog for our team to share experience and information as it relates to the supply chain of organic and healthy lifestyle.

My job is to manage relationships with farmers, packers, processors and buyers. We are working to develop direct value chain programs in the organic, non-gmo space.

Keith Agoada
Keith Agoada

About two to three times per month I get to travel to Latin America to visit their farms and facilities.

I continuously travel to cities and countrysides in Latin America, and communicate regularly with buyers of bulk organic materials.

Over the last three years I started to take photos with my iPhone which I share with friends and family on WhatsApp and Instagram.

I've launched this blog so that I can connect with a larger audience and also to put some more context to the images I capture. Many of the experiences I will be sharing have shaped my personal, professional and spiritual growth.

The photography is certainly amateur, and the writing as well. My creative teammates take more professional photos mostly of farms and food which I will be sharing here also.

I write these blog posts on airplanes, hotel rooms, at my office in Santa Rosa, California or wherever I can get a quiet moment to reflect on my experience.

Part 1: Leonel and the Packing House
Keith Agoada

In August I had the privilege of spending three days in Michoacán, Mexico visiting with Leonel Chavez, Owner and CEO of Michoacan Organics an export wholesaler dedicated to organic avocado supply chain and sales to the United States.

Leonel is a pioneer in organic avocados in Mexico with more than 20 years experience grow

 

Exporting with Coopeassa in Costa Rica

Pineapple Translucency Chart

Keith Agoada

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Coopeassa is a leading organic cooperative inCosta Rica It has been in the business of grower organic banana and organic coffee for almost ten years.

In 2016 the company expanded into organic pineapple production.

Since then, I have built a relationship with their executives and team supporting their marketing and sales for the US market.

October 15th is approximately the date of the first harvest for organic pineapple export. As part of the preparation I was asked 'what translucency does the buyer want?'

It's a great question, and one that is actually quite common in the pineapple world.

Pineapples from Costa Rica are often shipped for 14 or more days from harvest until the time it reaches its customers in the United States, Canada and Europe.

As such, buyers instruct their packing facilities to 'pick green' so that the quality can withstand the travel time.

Many buyers want a '.5-1' color which means it is just starting to sightly break the golden color. The idea is that it will maintain proper bric (sugar) content while maximizing the shelf life.

This is a great chart from Don Edwards at University of California-Davis that clearly explains the difference in pineapple color coding.

If you let the pineapple ripe naturally you can arrive at the deep gold color. This is the other extreme and is not advised by marketers. While this pineapple may taste great, it doesn't hold well and must be eaten rapidly.

Pineapple Translucency Chart

Colombian Hass Avocado

Hass Avocados can be Imported from Colombia to the USA

Keith Agoada

On August 13th, 2017, Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States of America announced that the U.S. will begin permitting Colombian avocados imports.

Here is the information from the USDA:

Colombian Avocados USDA Import Requirements

Many Colombian growers, packers and exporters have come to the realization that the process of phytosanitary certification, will in many cases delay farms 12 months or more to get everything in order and approved. Nonetheless there is strong momentum, and the 2019 avocados congress is being hosted in Colombia.

Despite the obstacles Colombian entrepreneurs are enthusiastic to find solutions, and create a thriving export industry to North America.

Mission Produce's July 25th deal with Cartama

further established Colombia as a serious player in Hass avocados in the future.

Colombian producers have successfully shipped Hass avocados to Europe but accessing a US market that is dominated by Mexico and California for much of the year, may be a more difficult task.

There seems to be a solid window in July to October when Mexico is down, but it is still to be determined how many containers of avocados will be exported from Colombia during this window.

There are diverse growing regions and a strong second flower. This ought to provide a larger range of harvest window, but the main seasons appears to be November to March.

Many are observing Colombia's avocado industry and are looking forward to seeing how this matures. There is an abundance of affordable agriculture real estate with Haas avocado growing conditions in Colombia. There is certainly a potential for further development and output.

Blockchain and Agriculture

Is it the Future?

Keith Agoada

Blockchain Technology

As the excitement of Blockchain technology has swept across the finance industry and into other industries around the world, many believe that agriculture as well will be greatly impacted.

For those of you who are new to the term, Investopedia defines Blockchain as the following:

"A blockchain is a digitized, decentralized, public ledger of all cryptocurrency transactions. Constantly growing as 'completed' blocks (the most recent transactions) are recorded and added to it in chronological order, it allows market participants to keep track of digital currency transactions without central recordkeeping. Each node (a computer connected to the network) gets a copy of the blockchain, which is downloaded automatically."

For the international agriculture industry our team envisions blockchain having two short term impacts:

  • Transactions
  • Documentation/Authenticity

With cryptocurrency and utilization of Blockchain technology, these large payments can circumvent the inefficiencies of financial institutions and be completed in moments. As soon as the buyer executes the payment, it can be received by producers. This innovation would be a blessing for many who are in the business of growing, packaging, and exporting agriculture products for international markets.

The second area of innovation useful to agriculture is the documentation and authenticity. Using the blockchain technology could provide an avenue for complete authenticity, transparency and success in the movement of documentation that corresponds to harvests. The organic certifications, Global GAP traceability information, and the details on the transportation and physical storage of the raw materials, could all be built into the blockchain and provide a new level of confidence and accessibility to the credibility of a value chain.

Blockchain the Future of Agriculture

With the adoption of just these two innovations, blockchain technology will have a monumental impact on the agriculture industry. It will be part of a great modernization that is taking place in food safety, transaction, and traceability.

This well written article by Gro Intelligence summarizes the future potential of Blockchain technology within the agriculture sector.

Simply Natural Farms

More Photos and Additional Perspective

Keith Agoada

Organic Mango

I've attached some more images from the Simply Natural farm in Panama taken by their team. These photos include the nursery, plantains, and the organic mangos at different ages.

Simply Natural has hit their three year mark since their first Lady Victoria mango tree was planted at their new farm in Cocle, and the plants look happy and healthy.

The mango harvest season in Panama is around May to August each year. This past year, Simply Natural made their first harvests. It wasn't for commercial markets since the harvests were sparingly, and minimal.

Starting the 2018 season and beyond, the company will increase harvests and begin to sell their fruit commercially; fresh to domestic and international markets, and processed in dried form for international customers.

Simply Natural is already harvesting their organic certified plantains and selling them domestically to leading supermarket chains Grupo Rey, RibaSmith, and Machetazo.

Simply Natural Farms

It's worth noting that the images are very 'green.' The grass surrounding the mango trees and climbing up the hills in the valley are bright green. However, for much of the year, the color is a golden color. This gold color is a natural occurrence. The Simply Natural mango and lime farms are located in a region of Cocle, Panama known as the dry arch. From December to May, for about six months, its common for there to be little to no rain. The intense equator sun will dry up much of the life, often taking away the green color to the landscape.

Mango trees are drought tolerant, and in fact, to get ideal fruiting, and high quality fruit, a period of drought can help. The Lady Victoria mango has been perfectly adapted to this micro regional climate, and we are anticipating organic mango yields that will go beyond the projected totals. However, the agriculture engineers at Simply Natural have decided to install a sophisticated irrigation system in the mango fields in order to assure a controlled growing environment and harvest results.

Plantains are a crop that harvests in 9-10 months and they also have been installed with a controlled irrigation technology that is both efficient and effective with the water and nutrients.

In the industry consistency of harvest quality and volume is critical. Confidence is gained, and deals are won and lost with consistency. Simply Natural is taking the steps to achieve consistent yields of their crops at the highest quality for domestic and export markets.

Simply Natural Farms

Visit to Organic Avocado Farm in Michoacan, Mexico
Keith Agoada

In August I had the privilege of spending three days in Michoacán, Mexico visiting with Leonel Chavez, Owner and CEO of Michoacan Organics an export wholesaler dedicated to organic avocado supply chain and sales to the United States.

Leonel is a pioneer in organic avocados in Mexico with more than 20 years experience grow