WENATCHEE, Wash. – Stemilt received new Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) certifications in [August] to become the first apple, pear, and cherry company to achieve EFI certification of its entire operation. The new certifications bring EFI standards and continuous improvement practices into all Stemilt-owned orchards and warehouse facilities and represent over 3500 employees.
According to Stemilt president West Mathison, achieving full EFI certification is an important milestone for the company, and comes less than a year after Stemilt’s first EFI certification at its Quincy, WA orchard. Stemilt began working with EFI on a pilot in 2019, and Mathison quickly saw the value in EFI’s training program and standards. He recognized EFI as a program to build a culture around continuous improvement to help Stemilt on its journey to cultivate people and delight consumers through excellence.
“Being the first tree fruit company to achieve full EFI certification across our organization is an incredible accomplishment for our teams,” states Mathison. “Most of this training and work occurred during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the perseverance our team showed to bring full certification to reality is a true testament of their dedication to provide consumers all around the globe World Famous fruit.”
There are more than 300 rigorous standards around labor practices, food safety, and pest management that a farm or facility must meet to achieve EFI certification. The standards also emphasize collaboration, respect and creating a culture of food safety. Stemilt exists to cultivate people and delight consumers through excellence and the EFI certification solidifies Stemilt’s commitment of fulfilling their mission.
“Each facility or ranch is led by an EFI leadership team made up of a group of cross-functional individuals,” explains Mathison. “They are taught EFI’s soft skill training around leadership, communication, problem solving, and conflict resolution and then tasked with putting those newfound skills to the test through a collaborative project approach around continuous improvement. The leadership team structure promotes better engagement and helps us find leaders within the organization.”
These projects not only put EFI training skills to practice, but they also help the organization improve upon existing and new processes. With nearly 100 employees trained under the EFI umbrella and three team members that can train others on EFI standards, Stemilt has made improvements within their social and pest management areas, safety, and the well-being of employees.
“All of the employees who are part of the EFI certification process have demonstrated their desire to improve and help Stemilt fulfill its purpose,” explains Mathison. “We have only just earned this full EFI certification, but I know the impact that it will make will be substantial for years to come.”
Stemilt’s commitment to continuous improvement and EFI standards were apparent while moving through the EFI certification process for the orchard and warehouse areas of its business. Kevin Boyle, director of new product and business development for Equitable Food Initiative, explained that being the first apple, pear and cherry company to achieve broad certification solidifies Stemilt’s dedication to their employees and products.
“Stemilt has been a leader in developing its workforce through training and improvement processes, so it’s not a surprise that they became the first apple, pear and cherry grower to certify its entire Washington-state operation,” said Kevin Boyle, Director of New Product and Business Development, Equitable Food Initiative. “Their work throughout the pandemic is testament to their dedication and commitment to the certification process, as well as to their product quality and team culture.”
To maintain certification, Stemilt will move through two years of verification audits that take place annually and one re-certification process that occurs prior to the end of the three-year certification. These audits ensure that all food safety and pest management standards and work involvement indicators are being met.
“The EFI certification not only communicates our commitment to high quality fruits, but it also ensures our workers that we are building a culture that is employee centric,” explains Mathison. “By teaching these skills, we are building confident employees who are committed to delivering fruit that is ‘Responsibly Grown, Farmworker Assured.’ That is one of the most rewarding things of all.”
Stemilt is a family-owned grower, packer, and shipper of tree fruit. Owned and operated by the Mathison family, Stemilt’s mission is to cultivate people and delight consumers with its World Famous Fruits. Stemilt is a leader in sweet cherries and organic tree fruits, and a key supplier of apples and pears. The company stewards an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible business through its Responsible Choice® program, which has been in place since 1989. For more information about Stemilt, visit www.stemilt.com.
About Equitable Food Initiative
Equitable Food Initiative is a nonprofit certification and skill-building organization that seeks to increase transparency in the food supply chain and improve the lives of farmworkers through a team-based approach to training and continuous improvement practices. EFI brings together growers, farmworkers, retailers and consumers to solve the most pressing issues facing the fresh produce industry. Its unparalleled approach sets standards for labor practices, food safety and pest management while engaging workers at all levels on the farm to produce Responsibly Grown, Farmworker Assured® fruits and vegetables. For more information about Equitable Food Initiative, visit equitablefood.org.