Lipman remains a privately owned company that’s tight-lipped about its land holdings and finances. But the company is reaching out to the public now more than ever.
As the former Six Ls, the company garnered unsolicited news coverage for doing business with a pair of independent labor bosses who in 2010 were convicted of enslaving and abusing nine migrants who’d worked on company fields. News media calls to company leaders on various labor disputes often went unreturned.
These days, the company that was renamed Lipman is earning recognition for its support for farm worker rights; for creating a consumer-oriented website; and for contributing to community education and culture.
It also welcomes reporters and schoolchildren on field trips to its tomato and vegetable farm that straddles Estero and Bonita Springs.
For years, Lipman and other major tomato growers in Florida took heat for largely ignoring a grass-roots worker campaign for improving pay and working conditions for harvesters.
No longer. “We see (Lipman) as one of the leaders in the industry, in their commitment to the Fair Food program,” said Laura Safer Espinoza. She is the former New York State Supreme Court Justice who left retirement to become director of the Sarasota-based Fair Food Standards Council that launched in November.
The nonprofit council enforces the Fair Food agreement that gives pickers a penny raise for each pound of tomatoes harvested. The money comes from corporate buyers of tomatoes, but is remitted through payroll checks from the growers. The council also works with growers to improve conditions for the people who pick tomatoes in Florida.
About 10 years ago, the grass-roots nonprofit Coalition of Immokalee Workers promoted a lengthy consumer boycott of Taco Bell restaurants because the fast-food chain bought tomatoes from Six Ls. The boycott was part of a broader campaign that stretched to other big tomato buyers, and which ultimately led to the Fair Food agreement signed by the Florida Tomato Exchange industry group.
Reached recently at company operations in South Carolina, Chairman Larry Lipman brushed off the suggestion that distrust was common in tomato grower-farm worker relations just a few years ago. “The people who worked for us over the years were very happy,” Lipman said.
Company CEO Kent Shoemaker called grower-worker animosity “more fiction than fact. … We’re very proud of the relationship we have with all of our employees. The company has provided free housing to farm workers for generations.”
Lipman charitable giving predates its name change and new management. Some examples:
• In 2008, the company gave $112,900 to Redlands Christian Migrant Association to support the nonprofit’s literacy, after-school and child-care programs.
• Since 2003, Lipman has provided an estimated $450,000 in scholarships to graduating Immokalee High School students.
• Last December, the company announced its partnership with the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples. It donated $300,000 to create the “Lipman Family Produce Market,” an interactive shopping experience. Lipman also has pledged to arrange opportunities for Immokalee children to visit the museum once yearly, for free.
Lipman aims to woo consumers across the United States through its LipmanKitchen.com website, featuring recipes, nutrition tips and the “Ask our Farmer” Q&A.
The company is aggressively social, inviting contact through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest.
It’s all part of the company’s “access to the acres” philosophy, said CEO Shoemaker.
“People want to know where their food comes from, and that it is safe, reliable and dependable,” Shoemaker said, adding: “All of that plays into our business model.”