Frieda's Partnership With Earth University Empowers Growers Globally, Encourages Sustainability Worldwide

Mon. July 3rd, 2017 - by Laura Hillen

LOS ALAMITOS, CA – The heart of our beloved industry isn’t just the fruit and vegetables that are so carefully produced, but also the very professionals who dedicate themselves to fresh produce every day. In this vein, Frieda’s Specialty Produce has continuously partnered with EARTH University to search out future global industry members, and empower them with the tools and passion they need to thrive.

As Karen Caplan, Frieda’s President and CEO, recently told me, the company’s fruitful partnership with the non-profit organization began many years ago to uplift youths, while bettering the industry along the way.

Karen Caplan, President and CEO, Frieda's Specialty Produce“Over 20 years ago, Panfilo Tabora, a longtime friend of ours, took a position at EARTH and introduced the university to us,” Karen shares, adding that Panfilo was instrumental in helping Frieda’s to import the first fresh Hearts of Palm into U.S. markets over 30 years ago. “In 2002, we began a regular contribution to provide scholarships for students to support all four years of their education. It was in 2008 that we began hosting an EARTH intern here at Frieda’s for a formal 4 month program each fall.”

Based in Costa Rica, EARTH University offers educational opportunities in sustainable agriculture to students in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. Spanning over 50 nations across the globe, the organization exemplifies a true “learn by doing” philosophy. EARTH University offers its students a rigorous four-year curriculum in agricultural sciences and natural resources management in both student-centered and experiential learning.

Frieda's staff making silly faces on Rumby's last day in the office

Interestingly, if you purchase organic bananas at any Whole Foods Market in the USA, they are probably from EARTH University. As part of their “learn by doing” philosophy, EARTH produces and exports more than 1 million boxes of bananas each year, to the U.S. and Europe.

“EARTH University is the only global university that teaches and practices true sustainability in every part of its curriculum,” Karen continues. “The university gives students the skills and education to go back into their communities when they graduate and create enterprises that improve the economies of their home countries. That’s a whole new generation of international agriculturalists who put sustainability first!”

Rumby, EARTH intern from Zimbabwe (left) and Karen Caplan (right)

As the Frieda’s team knows firsthand, the participation of current industry members and companies are vital to the betterment of agricultural worldwide.

“Our support helps EARTH produce future sustainably-minded agriculture professionals who then go on to affect change in their home countries,” Karen says. “We are also proud to have influenced the lives of our interns from teaching them skills they can use in their future careers, sharing our work culture and even our day-to-day lives. In return, we get a fresh perspective from each intern. The learning really goes both ways!”

Isaiah, EARTH intern from Kenya (left) and Karen Caplan (right)

As of 2016, Frieda’s has hosted six EARTH University interns in its operations; two from Costa Rica, two from Haiti, one from Kenya, and one from Zimbabwe. Rumby, Frieda’s last intern who was from Zimbabwe (the home of the horned melon) was the one to teach the company that the skin of a horned melon is actually edible, and as Karen was quick to interject, also delicious with a little salt!

“Our employees take ownership in mentoring an intern, and no matter how small an interaction is, whether it is professional or personal, the experience motivates and energizes them,” Karen finishes.

EARTH University President Jose Zaglul, with Isaiah, Earth intern from Kenya (far right), and two other EARTH interns

Frieda’s has proudly introduced EARTH and it’s students and graduates to several other produce companies. Taylor Farms recently hired an EARTH graduate for their Florida operation and J & C Produce, based in Miami, will be hosting their first EARTH Intern next summer.

For more information on how to learn more about EARTH University program, visit or contact Victor Sanchez, a USA based representative of EARTH [email protected].

Frieda's Specialty Produce