Kent Shoemaker is CEO of Lipman Family Farms. Based in Immokalee, Florida, Lipman is the largest open-field tomato grower in North America, providing dependable year-round fresh produce through an integrated network of research and development, farming, processing and repacking.
When the Lipman family planted its first tomato more than 60 years ago, the goal was modest: simply to provide for the family. Little did the family realize what that first seed would ultimately yield.
Today, the company is now Lipman Family Farms, the largest open-field tomato grower in North America – operating in 12 states, cultivating ten thousand plus acreage exceeding 30 locations, and packaging and distributing fresh vegetables and fruit nationally.
As the name implies, the business remains family-owned and continues to incorporate the orginal values that have been at the company’s core since its inception. As the first CEO hired from outside the family – making sure that legacy continues is both a privilege and responsibility.
Since joining the team seven years ago, I have been passionate about telling the Lipman story holistically – ensuring the company is defined not only by sustainable growth, but also humanity and personal commitment to our employees, communities and the planet.
In short, at Lipman Family Farms, the mission is to do good when we do well. I am proud to say we are accomplishing both goals.
Expanding Our Reach
Today – after embarking in 2010 on a strategic plan to expand the company’s reach – Lipman has completed seven acquisitions in six states, allowing it to move into Oregon, North Carolina, Texas, California, Arizona and Colorado. The company has doubled in size over the past five years.
Lipman is vertically integrated, controlling the supply chain from seed to delivery. It continually invests in state-of-the- art tools, technology and automation. Its R&D team seeks to improve breeding quality, flavor, better yields, reduced inputs and better shelf life.
Combined, these strategies have fueled company growth – but that is only part of the story. What will truly keep Lipman Family Farms competitive for years to come is the foundation propelling the growth and a relentless commitment to the sustainability of both human and natural resources.
Caring for Our People
As an industry pioneer, Lipman was one of the first large-scale growers to adopt and implement a sound corporate social responsibility policy. Every job matters; therefore, the company created a stable and secure environment for workers, providing opportunities to advance the ranks and into management. As a Socially Accountable Farm Employer, Lipman houses a majority of its farmworkers, provides transportation to work, and since 1975, has offered daycare for families with children through Head Start – all at no cost to employees.
It has long been committed to philanthropy and community service, a pledge that remains strong as the company enters its fourth generation of owners. Lipman supports organizations and programs that provide long-term solutions to real social issues – not only in the areas where it operates but to the agriculture community as a whole.
Caring for Our Environment
For decades, the Lipman family tilled numerous fields, and always honored its responsibility to nurture the environment that enables the plants to grow. Management embraced sustainability early on, not because it was mandated, but because it was right. “Doing more with less,” Lipman was among the first in the nation to use state-of-the-art technologies such as drip irrigation to protect precious natural resources. It tracks every seed and accounts for virtually each drop of water consumed, ensuring waste is minimal. In Florida, this policy cuts water use by nearly 70 percent, annually saving 66 million gallons of water pumped from the ecologically sensitive Floridan Aquifer.
Across the board – from reuse and recycling, to reducing fuel consumption company wide, to transitioning to milder, greener pesticides – Lipman is farming smarter and better.
Remembering Our Roots in Florida
At Lipman Family Farms, the future looks bright. No matter how large and wide it has grown, its roots are instilled in Immokalee, Florida. Just like its founder, Max Lipman, employees remain passionate and hardworking, conducting business “person to person” and continuing to cultivate close relationships with customers, employees, partners and communities served.
The family values that guided us for generations continues today and shapes all aspects of the business. Caring for the earth, workers and communities is not just an occupation; it defines Lipman Family Farms as a company.
And I never tire of sharing the story from one seed to a national company to the American dream.