Kentuckian creates a better box to replace plastic produce containers
“It all started because I didn’t like vegetables,” laughs Linda Fritz of Verona, an Owen Electric consumer-member. “When I discovered edamame, it was life changing literally.”
“I was like, okay, I eat vegetables, I love sweets, but I know I should eat better,” she says. “I figured if I like this, then maybe kids will like it, too, so I’ll start growing it for kids to eat and sell it.”
That was in 2012. Later while searching for containers to package the edamame, it struck her how much Americans had become dependent on plastic bags.
With an electrical engineering background and running a marketing company, Fritz created a collapsible, reusable lightweight crate that she calls the CRESBI Crate Systems. Each crate replaces up to six plastic bags. They stack in grocery carts as well as being dishwasher safe. The crate systems, which are sold to the public or personalized for fundraisers or commercial sales, is patented.
Then, in 2013, while designing a greenhouse website, she admitted to the client she hated tomatoes. He invited her to try the Sun Sugar cherry brand of tomatoes he was growing. Discovering her love for the sweet tomato, she began growing them and wanted to encourage kids to eat them.
Sun Sugar Farms was born.
Soon she was determined to find a sustainable solution for plastic single-use containers, when she again found herself searching for the best container to take the tomatoes to market.
Fritz explains that plastic clamshell containers have a resin code symbol on them, but virtually none get recycled and billions end up in landfills.
Working with various manufacturers of boxes, including one in Kentucky, she designed a 100% recyclable cardboard container.
The boxes have earth-themed cut-outs that allow good visibility and encourage airflow around the produce to minimize condensation from temperature transitions and to preserve product freshness.
“People can recycle it or throw it away and it’s going to biodegrade. It won’t sit in a landfill for centuries,” says Fritz.
Fritz says after creating the first container for the tomatoes, she began to have farmers reach out to her asking for other sizes to package their produce—anything from mushrooms to strawberries, or blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.
Fritz says she thought the containers had too many vents for mushrooms, “but, no, they are perfect for mushrooms. They let them have some air and they don’t get all slimy like they do in a plastic container. The paper containers protect the produce.”
She says Caleb Fiechter of Valley Spirit Farms, Campbellsburg, pushed her to create a two-quart sustainable container for his culinary mushrooms.
She was also recently approached by someone who raises live microgreens and was looking for a recyclable container that would hold the microgreens along with the pad that the roots grow in. So, she designed a taller two-quart container.
Fritz now sells six different sizes of the paper containers: half-pint, standard pint, low-profile pint (that spreads produce out more), quart, two-quart and the taller three-quart.
“I really want to capture the regular market (grocery stores). But the problem is, other than here in my local area where I’m a supplier, the grocery stores just don’t want to pay growers any more money, even for a sustainable package,” Fritz says. “Purchasing in high volumes, it’s literally an additional one or two cents more.”
She adds, “I just shipped a half a pallet of half-pint containers to California. This company is zero waste. They package their blueberries and raspberries in my containers because people want smaller amounts and do not want to waste food.”
Educating adults and kids about healthy foods
Today, on just 1 acre, Fritz grows over a ton of produce, which is sold seasonally in select Kentucky Kroger stores. Some of her produce is also sold via Green Bean Delivery, which sells fresh products online or as a subscription service. For those interested in purchasing fresh edamame, you can sign up on Fritz’ website to be contacted when the season starts.
At CresbiCrate.com, she sells the sustainable paper containers, which can be customized for farmers across the U.S., the CRESBI Crate Systems, gourmet granola and other sustainable products.
Fritz is passionate about educating adults and children on sustainability and healthy food.
Before the pandemic hit, Fritz was visiting schools talking to kids about sustainability and giving out food samples grown on the farm—things like cantaloupe, watermelon and edamame—just so they could try different things.
Fritz says a few weeks later, she was at a show selling crates and edamame. “A little boy goes, ‘Mom can we go buy some edamame?’ The mom was like, ‘What is it?’ She had never heard of it.
That’s the whole thing that pushes me to just try to help people to eat healthier, live healthier and have a better life.”