Kelley Bell, vice president of social and environmental impact at Driscoll’s, discusses how the company works closely with local farming communities and how she’d like to collaborate with other Members on the issue of a living wage.
Keep reading to understand how Driscoll’s social work supports the longevity and success of the business, which skill makes Kelley uniquely qualified for her role, and how her team finds value in attending SB conferences.
What project are you most excited about right now?
Driscoll’s Sustainable Communities efforts happen at the local level in our many production communities where hundreds of independent growers produce Driscoll’s berries. Because of that, there are so many local efforts to share, it is hard to pick just one.
That being said, I want to highlight our Fair Trade efforts in the San Quintin area of Baja, California, that we are doing in partnership with one of our growers, BerryMex. Through their farm-certification process, Fair Trade USA has been able to assure Driscoll’s retailers and consumers that our certified berries coming from Baja have been produced under responsible social and environmental practices.
Of course that level of trust feels good to someone in my position, but I am really excited about Fair Trade’s farm worker committee structure that has led to farm worker leadership and community impact. The premium collected on our Fair Trade certified berries has gone straight back to our farm workers to be used to benefit their local community in whatever way they choose.
Through the empowerment, skill-training and resources provided to farm workers on worker committees, we have seen our grower’s workforce come together to drive impact for themselves, their families and their broader community.
Driscoll’s has been able to contribute dollars and resources as well, and involve our retailers in the efforts of the workers. Close to 6,000 farm workers participate in the trainings and the elections of committee leaders. One of the resulting projects, a local Health Fair that was held last year, brought medical services to 2,700 people in the community.
Recently the Baja committee has voted to invest in water storage tanks for people’s homes because of the challenging water-access issues locally. Our efforts with Fair Trade bring together our commitment to a thriving workforce and a resilient community.
How is social or environmental innovation driving value for your business?
We look at our social and environmental efforts as a critical component to ensuring a viable business for the long-term. Driscoll’s depends on people, resources and infrastructure to grow, harvest and transport our berries. The largest impact in our supply chain happens in our many production communities, so our long-term success is dependent on their ability to thrive – you cannot decouple the two.
This means that we have to stay well-connected at the local level and hold ourselves accountable for everything that happens in the name of the brand. This is not easy work. We do not have all the answers, and we will never be perfect, but we are committed to long-term positive impact wherever we grow, because we know the success of our business and brand depend on it.
What inspires and drives you to work on sustainability?
Collaboration. I know, everyone says that, but I have seen its power, particularly around very difficult and sometimes contentious issues. Our business model is our best strength.
Our 700 independent growers around the world bring their skill, perspective, commitment and innovation to the work, because they are the farming experts and their livelihoods depend on results. A good majority of our growers live where they farm, so if we see local challenges, they are living them.
This is what makes this work so exciting; our opportunity is to collaborate with our growers, community members, NGOs, government and others to drive shared value and positive impact in each of our communities. We have seen that we are stronger together. The opportunity to work collaboratively on issues related to local water resources, social service projects, industry efforts to improve farm-level conditions and more make this work exciting, challenging and meaningful.
One of my focuses as we go forward is to make sure that the farm worker is at that table and has a voice in their community and their future.
Can you share something about yourself that would surprise us? Any hidden talents?
I have been told that I have a unique talent for making people feel welcomed and at ease. Through my work, I have facilitated some fairly volatile discussions and helped to rally people around aligned goals. This is fun for me, to lean in when others might lean out. That is where the most exciting conversations happen and often the greatest impact is fostered.
If you had unlimited time and resources, on what type of work would you want to collaborate with fellow SB Members?
Can we please tackle living wage before I retire?! This is a vibrant discussion within Driscoll’s, how to create a sustainable supply chain with a product price that consumers will buy, profits for our growers that allow them to continue to reinvest in their business, and sufficient rewards for those that harvest the fruit so they can live a decent quality of life.
There are many challenges and opportunities in the agricultural supply chain, but this is one I would like to collaborate on at some point in my career. This is not one that we can address by ourselves.
Why is your participation in the SB Member Network important?
As I have said before, we know we do not have all the answers. Work in this space is hard, complex and nuanced at the local level. We get the best results through collaboration and idea sharing. Leading companies and NGOs participate at SB conferences and events.
While accountability for much of our Sustainable Communities work resides with our local leadership, a big part of my job and my team’s job is to bring the outside in. SB is one place where I know my team and I can stay inspired and connected.
Anything else you'd like to share with fellow SB Members?
For those not involved in agriculture, I think it is important for them to understand how the environment has changed for farmers in the last decade and what that means for farmers.
Since the beginning, Driscoll’s growth has been due in-part to its strong alignment with growers, offering opportunity for locals to invest in and build businesses as producers of Driscoll’s berries and to benefit from the high-value crops and our access to market. As availability of water and workforce has become constrained, innovation and additional investment in technology and other aids are needed on the farm just to maintain a quality crop.
Agriculture is increasingly becoming dependent on migrant populations to meet harvest needs, costs are rising, and marketplace demands on farmers have increased — requiring more transparency, sophisticated practices and farmers’ time and attention being pulled away from what they love, farming.
This is quickly leading to an environment where small and even mid-size growers are at risk of losing their livelihoods. We are finding ourselves having to provide more agronomic support, innovation and investment so that we can work with our independent growers to secure a future for our business and theirs.
While Driscoll’s is uniquely positioned and committed to this evolving role, our business model and structure is very unique in agriculture. This topic needs more attention than it is getting.