Culture, Farm, Featured, Kitchen, News, People

Boots On The Ground (Flipflops Technically)

June 8, 2021

Under the Crespo mango trees, I find efficiency, ingenuity, mango joy and #muchosmangoes

 The “Propaganda Lady” is what they called me last week at Empaque Don Jorge, as I walked around with my mask and hairnet snapping photos and filming staged and impromptu videos. I’ve learned to see the big smiles in the eyes of so many masked strangers. The extreme warmth of the packing house was more than the intense Sinaloa summer heat. It was, as I say in much of my “propaganda,” #PuroMexico #PuroAlegria! A warmth like no other. I loved every moment of my time there.

Propaganda is Spanish for marketing, and it makes me giggle, and reminds me of the simplicity and clarity that most other languages employ. English on the other hand seems sneakier, using multiple words to describe the same thing, but choosing one or the other depending on what is to be propagandized.  In Spanish, propaganda simply suggests that whatever the messaging is, it often has another purpose – in this case, to educate customers about our mango production process and about mangoes generally

With that said, my marketing work for Crespo does not involve misleading, and last week’s trip solidified for me the importance of capturing the truth on-the-ground in Mexico and sharing it with people here in the US on the other side of the process (i.e., buyers, industry folks and, most of all, consumers). I’m not just talking about the growing, packing and shipping aspects but also the people, culture and essence of the “ground” itself. All of these things together make up a mango season.

I am uniquely qualified for this “propaganda” work, the Spanish definition. My goal as the Crespo Organic voice, storyteller and marketer is to better connect the two sides of the supply chain with the most accurate information, using empathy, openness, respect, and genuine curiosity for each other’s realities. My job is to describe those realities. This connectivity and clarity, in turn, helps drive sales and longevity of business and community.

The marketing job has never been my main job. My job really involves selling the organic mangoes, which I am very good at. But my way of selling has always been through the farmer/grower storytelling lens. The average person, including buyers and industry folks, has no idea of the real inner workings of produce, of farming, or of all it takes to get a mango from a tree to someone’s table. My accomplishments in selling cases of produce has always been rooted in how successful I am at telling this story. With this success comes a re-shaping of systems and a more open and transparent way of doing business together. It’s hard work, for sure, but when I put my boots on the ground I am reminded of what the real hard work is. I immediately get refueled with passion and recharged with purpose. I am one part of this complex system.

Since it’s now June and the busiest, most voluminous part of Mexican mango production is now commencing, my passion is timed perfectly with a complex northern region season consisting of #muchos(little)mangoes., ripe for the picking for Crespo Organic  Summer Mango Mania.

My annual trip to Empaque Don Jorge last year was canceled, as most people’s traveling plans were due to COVID. We had just completed the three year total revamp of the packing house before we opened, and I was to go capture new photography and videos so we could accurately share our accomplishments. That way, our “propaganda” (remember, Spanish for marketing) reflects the look and feel of what’s actually happening, so buyers and consumers could see what happens when a successful direct trade method of selling is employed and when money goes back into farming communities, as opposed to brokers with little to no risk in the process.

So last week, I grabbed my mask and hopped on four different planes, spending more than 18 hours travelling from Blue Eye, Missouri, to Mazatlán, Mexico, to El Rosario, Sinaloa, to hometown of the Crespo family and home to Empaque Don Jorge, now the largest hydrothermal packhouse in Latin America. I went to collect as much as video and photography as I could to convey the complexities of farming to buyers, industry folks and consumers. I also try to share the stories of what it’s like to be a Crespo, a mango harvester or packer, a dried mango maker, or an El Rosarian wrapped up in the export mango industry.

Here’s my unique and highly qualified perspective from the vantage point of boots-on-the-actual-ground:

The Crespo Family As far as I can tell there are no firm titles for the Crespo family members who lead El Grupo Crespo, the family agricultural business headquartered in El Rosario, Sinaloa, Mexico. Rather, the Crespo siblings–Malu, Roberto, Jorge and Jose Angel –have various responsibilities that they split, seemingly based on their expertise, passion and tenacity. Their responsibilities seem to coincide with their personalities and physical location.

I think this way of caring more about getting things done rather than what the title may be is sensible and shows the family’s humility, which I know has been passed down from their late father Roberto Crespo Fitch and is exemplified by their mother Maluz Duran, who demonstrates a supportive (and seemingly gentle) hands-on approach at Empaque Don Jorge. You can feel the power of her matriarchal leadership as well as the love she has for her children. The workers and the community all feel like a part of the Crespo family and vice versa.

The hardest work along the supply chain (and I have seen every aspect firsthand all over the globe) is done at the farm-level, and the Crespo siblings work harder than any other heads of farms I have seen to date – and that is saying a lot.

The Crespo siblings remind me that hard work can also be joyous and I can see this trickling down into all aspects of the mango packing process, from the orchards to the packers to the drivers and so on. The family leads by example. They are there morning until night, seven days a week alongside their workers. This is true in the fields, the packhouse, the office, wherever they need to be and includes Jose Angel Crespo, who has also been my counterpart from the get-go and one of the busiest, most capable people I know in this business. Juggling a multitude of connected and disconnected items and processes for a year-round working mango system that ships from January to September and spans the entire length of Mexico. Empaque Don Jorge alone ships over 18,000,000 kilos of mangoes per season. To see him in his element is like admiring an art form.  One can’t help but try and figure out how to support him better.

El Grupo Crespo (RCF Distributors, Crespo Organic, Empaque Don Jorge) has continued to grow steadily and from the ground up. Among the most important reasons why is how each sibling has fallen into a clear set of responsibilities that they are well-suited to do, shifting nimbly as they need to, as we all must in this business.

 Empaque Don Jorge I have been to quite a few mango packing houses around the globe: Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Dominican Republic and even one in Israel. As impressive as some of these operations were, they all lacked a vison and efficiency that I had been searching for in a mango packhouse for many years, one that I found the first time I stepped foot in Empaque Don Jorge.

*Video doesn’t reflect revamp

Originally built by Roberto Crespo Finch in 1971, the packhouse had just finished a three-year total revamp in 2019 prior to last year’s season opening and COVID. Again, I was supposed to head down last year and capture new footage of the remodel and totally new machinery that was implemented, but COVID put my travel plans on hold, too.

But, this season, I was able to go again and I acquired new footage. I got that and more. The revamp, the new machines, the people working within the new systems gave me more clarity on all the details and the minutia that make up the mango packing process. I came with a lens and left with better scope.

*The video was taken prior to the revamp and does not reflect the actual look. The new videos will be released prior to the 2022 season.

#CrespoPeople At the heart of everything is what I call the #CrespoPeople. These are the many people that make up the organization, including supporting friends and family. When you enter into the packing house you are likely to encounter various workers who are part of over four generations of families who have worked at Empaque Don Jorge since it was built in 1970.

This year, as I meandered around the packhouse (with music blasting as usual), I couldn’t help but notice the genuine happiness that exudes from the people. I couldn’t see the faces because of the masks, but I could feel the smiles.

Most of the workers here live in the area and come back each season. There are experts in all 7 sectors of the mango packing process, and it is easy to spot who they are. They are always eager to help and instruct others.

One of the most joyous moments of my trip, that happened only because I was at the right place at the right time, is getting to meet a group of 8 or 10 young men who work at our Chiapas packhouse, EDJII. That packhouse had just closed for the season and, since there isn’t much work in the Chiapas area, they asked if they could come work in our Sinaloa packhouse. Of course, Jose Angel got them set up in a house and the day I met them they had just arrived and just seen EDJI for the first time. They were so happy to be there, excited to work, and it kind of melted my heart a little to get to see that joyful moment.

I thought I started #CrespoPeople as a hashtag for my “propaganda“ but really the Crespo family started it when they started the business, treating their workers like family. It doesn’t matter that there are hundreds and hundreds of them.

The Mango Orchards
Also Answer to Where is Jorge the Crespo Mango Man
I toured several orchards on this last trip and I never tire of it. Under the Mango Tree is the name of my blog for a good reason; it’s my favorite place within the mango system and the one I most rarely am under, so when I am I revel in it.Within hours of my feet touching soil at Empaque Don Jorge I stumbled upon a tiny and unique mango orchard brimming with all kinds of exotic varietals. What I had stumbled upon was the secret “test kitchen” of Jorge Crespo, aka the Crespo Mango Man.

Jorge gets excited about things; I love that about him. He’s incredibly positive and is always thinking about the future. I never had the chance to meet the siblings’ father, Roberto. He passed several years before my involvement. But as people describe him to me, Jorge is a lot like him, especially when it comes to the farming side. The same forward-thinking, avant-garde executions are in both of them. So, it was no wonder to find Jorge testing a medley of different varietals from across the globe. I got giddy over some of the possibilities for the future. So often when produce company’s grow, they don’t grow inside the pocket of their expertise and, thus, they do consumers a disservice. I was happy to find the tagline “We Are the Mango Experts” in full swing on this trip, mango people focusing on all the opportunities for growth that involve mangoes – new varietals, dried mangoes, mango products, etc.

Unlike times when Jorge’s father was alive, these days call for a little secrecy. So, I promised Jorge I’d keep further details of his tests a secret, as well as a few other wild projects he’s doing in terms of orchard expansion down there. One day, we will reveal where Jorge actually is and all he’s doing.

The most notable orchard I toured (they all are, actually)  was one that Jorge took me to about 20 minutes northeast of El Rosario, where we have over 150 certified organic hectares of mango orchards of various varietals: Thai, Tommy Atkins, Kent, Keitt and Ataulfos.

These orchards are incredibly unique and what I call our secret weapon this season. They sit in a long fertile valley along the Baluarte River, which is extremely low this season but does have some water. Our wells are fairly ample, all things considered, and the fruit looks big, plump and juicy. I didn’t see the same fruit drop and cluster shrivel that I saw in other orchards here. Jorge tells me it’s because these have ample water. The river valley is key and we have plans for another 100 acres of expansion here. We are the only ones growing in this area along the river.

The Drought & The Latest Crop Update I made another post to highlight all the details of this season’s drought and the updated crop report from the information I learned while on-the-ground in Mexico and viewing the orchards firsthand. You can find that post here.

The short of that story is that, yes, the drought is serious, as we have been reporting for a quite a while now and, yes, the fruit is incredibly small. Both Nayarit and the upcoming Sinaloa seasons will yield very small fruit. This is true for all varietals: Ataulfo, Tommy Atkins, Kent and Keitts.

Everyone will have to size down if they want any sort of consistency and/or volume. There is quite a lot of fruit out there, as most producers like us have increased their total orchard acreage by quite a bit. So even though there is a significant amount of fruit drop and cluster shrivel, there is indeed #muchosmangoes – mostly the little ones.

El Rosario/Mazatlán Comida & Culture I grew up traveling to other countries and have been doing it ever since. I love experiencing things that are different and expanding my own views, tastes and desires. I love going to visit the packhouse for this reason and more.

Traveling to Empaque Don Jorge every season I fly into and stay in Mazatlán (always on the beach).  Empaque Don Jorge is about 40 minutes east of Mazatlán, so for me the culture of both Mazatlán and El Rosario are important when I speak of the food and culture that surrounds El Grupo Crespo.

I am going to write more about the food and culture of Mazatlán  and El Rosario specifically on my other blog in the coming weeks (yes, I have another blog called My Herbal Roots). I’ll lay out the area in detail: talking about its history from when the Spanish conquered it in the late 1500’s to when the German settlers moved in and how today it’s one of the most popular tourism destinations for northern and central Mexicans.

In My Herbal Roots, I’ll put good attention onto areas of interest, restaurants, bars, hotels and generally fun places to go, as well as recreate some of my favorite recipes that I have had there  over the last 8 years I have been traveling there. I won’t leave El Rosario out either because I had some amazing food there, too, like the Tacos Dorados Cameron Secos that were drenched in some tangy juice. And who could forget the beautiful breakfast spot Jose Angel took me too with his son, where I had the silkiest glass of carrot and orange juice that brought me back to my days as a little girl in Nicaragua?

I won’t keep you in suspense, though. I’ll offer you a bunch of photos, which will surely make you want to keep checking My Herbal Roots until the post goes up.

The recipes I have and will be re-creating are Chorreadas, Tacos Dorados Cameron Secos and shrimp empanadas.

I already have re-created the Tuna Ceviche and the weird and amazing Spicy Citrus Juice recipes, and you can find those recipes here.










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