In 2013 Paul J. DiMare Sr., president of DiMare Fresh, was fittingly pinned with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Southeast Produce Council. This honor tops a long list of achievements over a lifetime, including Agriculturalist of the Year by the Dade County Farm Bureau in 1998 and American Red Cross Humanitarian of the Year in 2007.
Within the company, Paul draws on the knowledge he has gathered from 54 years with DiMare Fresh through decades of evolution and change in the industry; he is guided by his strong values, business acumen and plain common sense. Paul knows the agriculture industry, the importance of strong American companies with U.S. operations and, frankly, the value of a dollar.
DiMare Fresh is a nationwide network of repack distribution facilities owned by the vertically integrated DiMare Companies, a family dynasty that began with three DiMare brothers – Dominic, Joseph and Anthony – and a pushcart full of tomatoes on the streets of Boston just before the dawn of the Great Depression in 1928. Cart sales led to a storefront, a main supplier gig and eventually farming and packing operations in Florida and California in the 1940s.
Today, 85 years since beginning with tomatoes in the West End, DiMare Companies now has five farms, eight repack hubs, a handful of sales locations and distributes to every state in the U.S. This allows DiMare Fresh to be a high quality supplier to chains, fast food restaurants and food service operations.
Second generation Paul has been doing this most his life. “I was working there after school since I was 12 years old and officially joined in 1959,” he says proudly.
Paul goes on to explain that he originally came down to Florida in 1965 to oversee the farming and packing operation, which is now based in Homestead, Fla. Over time, farming grew to become the biggest portion of the business, and DiMare Fresh holds strong to what is considered by discerning customers to be a superior, natural product: outdoor, grown-in-ground tomatoes.
“They look good, they have a nice little stem, but they have no taste whatsoever,” Paul says of the other hothouse variety.
DiMare Fresh has many crops, including squash, avocados and lettuce. However, Paul asserts that the company does have its niche. “First and foremost, we are tomato people,” he says.
Leading the Way in its Operation
Seeking the ideal temperature zone year-round, DiMare Fresh on the East Coast rotates its tomato growing between three Florida farms: Homestead in the winter, Immokalee in late fall and early spring and Ruskin in early fall and late spring. Additionally, the company has long implemented frost-protection irrigation systems. Post-harvest, temperature control continues to be of critical importance and DiMare Fresh continually invests in cutting-edge technology and state-of-the-art equipment in order to keep its tomatoes in exquisite condition.
At the newest DiMare Fresh repack facility – built in 2012 in Houston – there is a continuous cold chain from receiving to shipping, ability for 25 separate temperature zones and pressurized ripening rooms with reversing air flow technology, ensuring that tomatoes and bananas sent out to customers on company-owned trucks are ripe and ready to use upon delivery.
Paul knows that many inputs are required to yield the right output, and research and innovation is included in the former. “We’ve been innovators on everything,” he says “We were the first people to package produce not only in Boston, but in the entire country. Our leadership has always been there.”
DiMare Fresh was the first in the industry to use plastic mulch, ground fumigation and large drip irrigation and utilize virtual impermeable film. The company is flush with success due to staying ahead of the curve in all areas of its full-service role as grower, packer, shipper and re-packer. “Still, everything on the farm is done by hand,” says Paul, “We plant, tie, prune, pick and grade our tomatoes all by hand.”
In addition to minding its own success, years ago DiMare Fresh made a move that benefits the entire tomato industry. “We have a funded chair at the University of Florida for plant breeding of tomatoes,” shares Paul. This targets the survival of the industry and encourages diversity. “We’re big on varieties,” he continues, detailing DiMare Fresh’s array of round, Roma/Italian plum, grape, cherry and on-the-vine tomatoes.
“Genetics have come a long way,” Paul explains. DiMare Fresh invests in the research and development of resistant varieties of seeds that require fewer insecticides and are heartier and able to grow in soil that has already been farmed. Another way to fortify already-farmed acreage is to fumigate the ground like DiMare Fresh does with plastic mulch and drip irrigation. “This was one of the biggest innovations in our industry,” Paul says.
The change to an efficient drip-tube irrigation system has greatly cut down on water use at DiMare Fresh farms; Paul estimates the company uses 10 times less water overall. “The water is released on a timer system and emits just enough to keep the plant going,” he explains.
Similarly, DiMare Fresh reduces fertilizer use by employing a concentrated application technique. “We never broadcast fertilizer, we put it right down in the bed in a band,” continues Paul. “We don’t waste it.”
Doing the Right Thing
The socially responsible reduction of fertilizer and pesticide use is in line with many other advances in processes at DiMare Fresh, including recycling and the use of biodegradable packaging supplies and chemical substitutes. DiMare Fresh facilities also sport roofs with Carlisle Membrane, which reflects heat and reduces the amount of energy needed for plant refrigeration, energy-saving light bulbs on motion sensors, water from a purified tap (not a plastic jug) and paperless systems where possible, such as online ordering.
There is conviction in Paul’s voice when he talks about the processes of the company, his view of the industry and its greater environment, the country. From creating good-tasting product for consumers to supporting American labor by keeping operations in the U.S., Paul is proud of where his company is at today, yet he knows full well what it is up against.
“We’re not any different from any other American corporation who is competing with cheap imports from Third World countries,” he says.
It is evident that 54 years in business will lead to the kind of expertise Paul retains. Of where he finds himself today, Paul credits hard work and integrity and hasn’t forgotten his family’s humble beginnings in Boston, and makes sure to get back up there often. The DiMares still own a little piece of the Boston Terminal Market, which they rent out; it is a slice of an incredible history in the tomato industry.
In the end, Paul is proud to be able to stand behind his product and say that in repeat taste tests, “Our product has shown well above any other product,” he says with a smile. Tomatoes with flavor… now that’s a national service from DiMare Fresh.