If you change one life, generations are touched: The produce industry is uniquely situated to help address global social disparities
Is there more we can do as individuals, farms and companies to make the world a better place — even though that sounds overwhelming? Yes, and it can start with one person, one farm, one company. Sergio Borquez Schwarzbeck, executive vice president of his family’s farming operation, Campos Borquez, headquartered in Sonora, Mexico, emphasized the role the produce industry can play in improving social and environmental sustainability in his presentation at the Global Trade Symposium, a pre-show event of the New York Produce Show.
A return speaker at the New York Produce Show, Borquez recently spoke with Susan Crowell, contributing editor at Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine, to explain how Campos Borquez initiated several projects to improve the communities that are home to the farm’s migrant workers — programs he thinks can be recreated in many forms across the globe.
Sergio Borquez Schwarzbeck
Q. Can you give us a brief introduction of your education and work, and background of your family’s farming operation? What are the primary produce products raised?
A. I grew up a fourth-generation farmer here in the state of Sonora, Mexico, and I loved it since Day One. I’ve been working here full-time since I graduated from Cornell University in upstate New York in 2015 with a degree in business, with concentrations in finance and food industry management, and a minor in viticulture. When I was growing up, I had the privilege of working every position during harvest, as a picker, packer and working my way up to harvest manager. When I graduated, I started in more administrative work. We didn’t have an HR department, so I built one from the ground up, then moved into the finance department, and now I’m the executive vice president.
We grow and ship table grapes, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, and asparagus, with orchards of avocados and mangos that will come into production soon.
Q. Why is the issue of social and economic equality so important to you, to Campos Borquez, and what will you be sharing at the New York show?
A. About five years ago, in 2016, I presented information at the New York Produce Show about a social responsibility program, a water supply project through the Fair Trade USA Certification program that we have worked closely with also for many years. This year, I’m sharing information on this and other projects that Campos Borquez has made or currently operates in collaboration with Whole Foods, Fair Trade USA Certification, and Regenerative Organic Certification.
We operate in northwest Mexico, and we have migrant workers coming from Central and South Mexico temporarily for the harvest seasons, which is three to six months of the year and then they go back to their homes. We try to provide all our services free here — dental, optometry, medical — all that we are able to do. We are able to keep really good retention rates, and we will have people coming back 12 to 18 years in a row.
But five years ago, we started to look at how are their lives proceeded when they were back home. Are their kids going to have more opportunities than they had when they grew up? We started looking at all these indicators and the needs they had back home, and we realized one village of 1,300 people that sent 350 people to work with us every year didn’t have access to potable water. They had to walk every day, three to six hours a day, to bring water back in buckets for their personal use, for cooking, for hygiene, everything. We couldn’t believe that reality. We’re working to provide the fresh fruits and vegetables to the households with the highest income on average in the world, Whole Foods’ buyers — and the people that are providing that food didn’t have water in their homes.
So we made it our job to correct the situation, and we worked with programs, and got it organized individually, and were able to execute and build an entire water supply system to every single one of the homes in the village.
In the past five years, we really progressed to another level. We’ve not only done the water supply, but we have continued doing ongoing programs in the migrant workers’ community. We’ve helped these people build 130 homes, we build recreational parks, and now we’re starting to do a micro-finance organization funded by the Fair Trade program that will help, for example, their wives to do entrepreneurship work in their own homes. And we’ll track how the economics and lifestyle of these people improve year over year, as they continue to come and work with us.
Q. Why are these efforts important to the produce industry, and why did you choose to highlight them in New York?
The reason why we were able to do it, and continue to keep doing it, is because we have a commitment from a buyer, from the retailer or the Fair Trade organization that provided the structure. We believe if we have an industry that is coordinated and committed, that buys into the responsibility that a farming organization has, we can take that impact to another level.
In this industry, we are in touch with life in so many ways: the soil is a living ecosystem; the plants are a living thing; we provide the most essential product of all, food for people, and it’s so beautiful how God has connected to people, to life and to the life of the planet itself. When we look at the impact we can have on the planet, improving sustainability in soil, but also to improve socio-economic conditions, living conditions and more. In this industry, we are in contact with all of that, with all of the extremes.
The truth is that if we only put a little bit of conscious commitment and responsibility all through the value chain, not only in the corporation level, we can really make an impact with our efforts. Once you have that level of power, it becomes automatically our responsibility to do it.
I can’t speak for other people, but I believe we focus too much on quick wins, quick returns, and short-term economic growth to keep us moving forward. But when we focus so much on the quick wins, we believe there is little we can do [to make an impact on global social issues]. But if we commit to this, if we dedicate some time to this, I do have to believe that we are able to make a change, and believe that we are in a unique position to do it in the world. Sometimes we think “the world is going to continue to be the world,” and “I do my part from 9 to 5, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.” But if you change one life, it’s one family, and it’s multiple generations, and that one life, it can truly be an infinite amount of impact. It doesn’t matter how much you can do, if you put your heart into it, it becomes inevitable to be part of it.
We have to let ourselves be touched, be in contact with the situation, because we are — even if you don’t want to look at it — we are in contact with it.
We all have ways to do it — it doesn’t have to be exactly like us. We’re just one example that may fit many people.
There are moments filled with difficulty… when you wonder if the industry, if the world, is actually going to make it. Then, if you are lucky, a person such as Sergio Borquez Schwarzbeck comes into your life.
He has had much good fortune in his life, yet when others have given in to arrogance, hedonism or self-centeredness, he has studied, worked hard and always sought to use the blessings that life has given him, in ways honorable and good.
One can always quibble with any specific proposal and question what the best path forward is, but merely knowing Sergio is to know that in our younger generation, there are exceptional people who can illuminate the path ahead and are willing to put in the work necessary to build a future as great as our dreams can imagine.
With COVID and such difficulties, with political discord, andwith an uncertain future, to listen to Sergio speak, generous of heart, yet practical of mind, is a rare and important pleasure.
We thank him very much for joining us in New York.
We are working to build on his content message of using the produce industry to build a better world at The London Produce Show and Conference. If you are interested in attending, please let us know here.
We have fantastic exhibit and sponsorship opportunities in London… please inquire about them here.
And if you are interested in exhibiting at or sponsoring this December’s Global Trade Symposium and the broader New York Produce Show and Conference, let us know here.
It was a rare privilege to be in the room as Sergio expounded on the idea that the produce industry could help build a better future for the people who toil to keep us all fed. We hope he will join us again soon.