A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Entrepreneur, environmentalist Linda Fritz thinks ahead with Sun Sugar Farms, Cresbi Crates

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By Anthony Wyatt
NKyTribune reporter

Some people know Linda Fritz as an organic edamame farmer, others as a enterprising entrepreneur in the male-dominated world of engineering and still others simply call her Mom.

Whatever hat she wears, Linda remains committed to protecting the environment and sharing her talents with the world.

At Sun Sugar Farms in Verona, Linda has been growing edamame beans for years while also cultivating a close relationship to her community. While her choice of crop may seem strange to some, her passion for providing locals with jobs has always been well received.

Throughout the years, Linda has employed everyone from stay-at-home mothers to DREAM Act teens on her farm, and her produce can be found on store shelves at neighborhood grocery stores, including Kroger.

Picking endame -- encouraging sustainability and healthy eating

Picking endame — encouraging sustainability and healthy eating

She also regularly donates crops to local schools and teaches children about the importance of healthy eating.

At the core of Sun Sugar Farms, beyond its focus on local jobs and community outreach, lies a commitment to sustainability and environmentalism. Linda grows all of her crops, including cherry tomatoes, sunflowers, jalapeño peppers and edamame beans, without pesticides, herbicides or genetic modifications.

In order to grow produce successfully while following such strict quality standards, innovation is key.

For Linda, this meant using brown paper bags around the farm to hold picked produce. However, “about five years ago, it became harder and harder to find paper bags at the grocery store,” she said.

Since she wanted to avoid using plastic bags due to the harm they cause the environment, Linda turned instead to reusable bags.

Although reusable bags are somewhat better for the environment, surprisingly they still contain plastic. “They are made of polypropylene like any other plastic bag,” said Linda, “but they are woven to look like cotton.”

Repurposing reusable bags. Making the most of every opportunity.

Repurposing reusable bags. Making the most of every opportunity.

What’s more, these bags tear easily and cannot be washed, which means bad news for a farmer.

After exhausting the alternatives, Sun Sugar Farms began using industrial plastic bins, but once again, there were problems. While the bins held up well, they were bulky and hard to carry, which proved to be a problem in the fields.

“This was really an a-ha moment,” Linda said.

At the end of 2012, after musing about alternative containers, it dawned on Linda that a better bin could be made; one that could be collapsible, lightweight and small enough for personal use.

From its inception, her idea for individual-use crates ran into roadblocks.

When manufacturing companies laughed at her idea or demanded $200,000 or more for product molds, Linda turned to alibaba.com where she could order crates directly from an overseas manufacture.

With some fine-tuning of the manufacturer’s original design – removing flimsy plastic handles, making holes for straps and screen-printing the product logo – the Cresbi Crate was born.

These manufacturing companies could only make the crates, however, so Linda turned to Yellow Dog Design in Greensboro, NC, to produce and print webbing and local seamstresses to turn the webbing into straps.

Fritz' Cresbi systems

Fritz’ Cresbi systems

By the spring of 2013, the Cresbi (that is, Collapsible Reusable Environmentally-friendly Stackable Box Idea) Crate was finally on the market, and it has been selling steadily ever since.

The multi-purpose Cresbi Crate

As Linda explained, her crates are “the Yeti coolers of grocery containment” because of their durability and functionality. They are collapsible, portable, sustainable and partly produced in the U.S., an uncommon distinction among eco-friendly products. Moreover, the straps, which are made of recycled materials, can be customized for the customer.

Once the crates were patented and trademarked, Linda began taking them on the road to tradeshows and events across the country. The Cresbi Crates have been featured at the Mother Earth News Fair in Wisconsin, at numerous sustainable agriculture shows nationwide and at the Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show in Lexington.

All of this attention has garnered an increasing demand for the crates, often from unconventional clients. For instance, the city of Shoreline, WA, bought 1,000 crates to hand out to its citizens after passing a ban on plastic bags in 2014. Other large-scale purchasers include the Bank of Kentucky (now BB&T), Usborne Books from Oklahoma City and Theatre House in Covington.

From multi-functional baskets to merchandising containers, the Cresbi Crates have seen great popularity for numerous applications. However, Linda mainly envisions her crates to be used as shopping vessels.

Although the crates come in all shapes in sizes, Linda designed them to fit into shopping carts and to be easily filled with groceries. At most stores, as long as the bar codes face upright, checkout employees can then scan the items without ever having to remove them from the crate.

Sun Sugar Farms also sells various inserts for the crates, including ones fitted with hot/cold gel packs. Furthermore, unlike reusable bags that cannot be washed, Cresbi Crates are dishwasher safe.

As Linda explained, “with these crates, everyone is happy: shoppers, the environment and even bag boys.”

Right now, the Cresbi Crates can be found at a number of local grocery stores, including Dorothy Lane Market in Dayton, Kramer’s market in Crescent Springs and Baesler’s Market in Terre Haute, Indiana.

cresbi2

Despite the product’s growing notoriety, Linda has not been successful in convincing national retailers to support the Cresbi Crates. “I’d love to see them in Kroger, especially since they’re right in our backyard,” she said. “The farm sells to Kroger, but they still don’t want the crates.”

Linda feels hopeful about the future of her product, and she continues to push for the Cresbi Crates to be a mainstay at more outlets. Moreover, she hopes to increase her exposure by selling the crates on the Home Shopping Network in August.

The future of Sun Sugar Farms

For the next step of Cresbi Crates and Sun Sugar Farms, Linda hopes to expand and build a warehouse and barns. Right now, she runs both ventures from her home, with boxes of crates stored in the basement and packing stations for the produce on the porch.

No matter how successful her company becomes, Linda remains committed to keeping it as local as possible. “I would love to get to the point,” she said, “where the crates are well known and I have great exposure, so that people will buy them and I can hire more seamstresses.”

She also gives back to the community in other ways. Recently, Linda gave a talk to the Girls and STEM Expo at Gateway Community and Technical College, encouraging young women to pursue their dreams in the male-dominated fields of science and technology. She has also promoted her crates at local agricultural shows, such as the Boone County Farm Tour and the Kenton County Farm Tour.

Linda continues to persevere in her mission of protecting the environment as well.

If a Cresbi Crate breaks, Linda sends the pieces to a company in Indiana that recycles the plastic for park benches.

Making the most of repurposing -- pet beds from reusable bag materials.

Making the most of repurposing — pet beds from reusable bag materials.

“I feel good about my product,” she said, “because it can be reused and repurposed.” Furthermore, customers receive a 10-cent credit on their purchases for each reusable bag they send in. Linda then cuts the bags into strips and repurposes them as either ties for tomato plants or weaves them together to make pet rugs.

In addition to the Cresbi Crates, Sun Sugar Farms makes other products as well. The eco-friendly take-out boxes, or Eco-Takeouts, are a particularly popular item, especially in the Hoff Dining Hall at Xavier University.

Although most people who buy Cresbi Crates or Sun Sugar Farms produce don’t do so because of environment, their purchases reduce landfill waste and promote sustainable agriculture. With plastic bags polluting the oceans and the Rumpke landfill slated to reach full capacity in just over a decade, such actions have important repercussions for our community and our world, she says.

Throughout the long and dynamic journey of Sun Sugar Farms and the creation of the Cresbi Crate, Linda is amazed at how well the local community has received her work. She is “always surprised and thrilled” when local farmers lend enthusiastic support for her crates or when children ask their parents to buy edamame because they tried it at school.

As her business grows and the Cresbi Crates find more customers, both local and abroad, Linda Fritz hopes to stay at the forefront of the movement towards environmentalism and sustainability.

As she said, “However you can get people to help the environment, it’s a great thing. Meet them where they are, and it will be a better world.”

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One Comment

  1. Beth Davis says:

    Hi Linda,
    I was at the Anderson Kroger on Saturday and you were passing through the produce section with your tomatoes on your way to the demo area. You handed me a box of tomatoes, which has lead me to reaching out to you. . The tomatoes are wonderful, which intrigued me
    To find out more about your farm and now I am even more intrigued. I love the cresbi crate system concept and am always looking for ways to connect resources. My profession is teacher/nutritionist, but I am currently a mom and active volunteer in our community, I serve on our schools (the forest hills school district) foundation board (FHFE.org) and coordinate community events for our schools. I would love to come by the farm to talk with you further.

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