WENATCHEE, WASH. – Stemilt Growers now has Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) certifications across its entire apple, pear and cherry operations, becoming the first producer to do so, according to the company. 

Stemilt began working with EFI on a pilot in 2019, and West Mathison, Stemilt’s president, quickly saw the value in EFI’s training program and standards. According to Mathison, EFI is a program that builds 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,” said 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 emphasize collaboration, respect and creating a culture of food safety.  

“Each facility or ranch is led by an EFI leadership team made up of a group of cross-functional individuals,” said 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 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.  

EFI not only serves growers, but can help retailers, farmworkers and consumers ensure greater transparency in the food supply chain. ESI provides assurance to retail buyers around labor conditions, food safety and pest management. 

“EFI has the unique opportunity to help advance human rights through increased worker engagement and awareness,” said Preston Witt, human rights director of global sustainability and compliance for Costco Wholesale. “It can give workers confidence to communicate with management without fear of punishment or retaliation, and open the door to drive improvements. We have seen this process add value to both the grower and worker, as well as provide us with stronger assurance that our own standards and expectations are being met.” 

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