In Memoriam: Organic Pioneer Carlos Cortes, Sr.; Academic Scholarship Created in His Honor

Carlos Cortes, Sr. Courtesy of Organics Unlimited.

San Diego, CA—Organic tropical fruit grower and distributor Organics Unlimited announced the passing of organic banana pioneer Carlos Cortes, Sr., the farmer who commercially introduced organic bananas to the U.S. In 1974, Cortes founded the Mexican-American Fruit Company, better known as MexAm, and began marketing organic bananas, which Organics Unlimited says was an industry first for the U.S. market.

Mayra Velazquez de León, President and CEO of Organics Unlimited and GROW and Cortes’ daughter, received a letter from her father upon his passing that “encapsulates the way he did business and the teachings he leaves for future generations.” Cortes wrote: “A company without clear values cannot develop a presence in market, even when it has the economic resources to grow. A company that provides goods or services with a priority on human, economic and social values will be the one that best meets its customers’ needs, develops its people and provides the highest return on investment to its shareholders.”

Members of the Organics Unlimited team, remembered Cortes and spoke of his legacy. “We have lost an icon in the organic banana industry,” Mayra Velazquez de León said in a statement shared by the company. “My father, Carlos Cortes, Sr., was the pioneer in growing and marketing organic bananas for the United States which he first started in 1974. He was an engineer by profession and a farmer at heart.”

Organic Banana Pioneer, Carlos Cortes, Sr; Courtesy of Organics Unlimited

Noting how Cortes paved the way for others, de León added, “Many of you might remember the days when organic fertilizers had to be made by hand with natural ingredients, when wooden crates were used to pack the fruit and when watching his memorable polka dot truck driving by meant that organic bananas were being delivered. Back then, it was a time when sustainability was not in a part of the mainstream vocabulary and when farming wild really meant organic, and social responsibility meant taking care of every single employee because they were also considered family. After 96 years of being with us, we have lost a father, a friend and a role model. My dad will be remembered by those who knew him for his avid storytelling, which always left listeners with a valuable life lesson. His legacy now lives on through his contributions to a better, more sustainable food system and through four generations of family banana growers that continue his visionary work.”

To honor that work and the memory of Cortes, the Organics Unlimited GROW Fund at the International Community Foundation is launching a scholarship in his name starting with the 2022-23 academic year. This scholarship will benefit university graduates from Mexico seeking a master’s degree (preferably in agronomy or a related field).

Organics Unlimited General Manager Daniella Velazquez de León, said, “We will remember what he taught us about organic farming: the importance of caring for our land, the history and tradition that we carry on, and the immensity of what is possible when a group of like-minded, values-based pioneers work together. Through the GROW Fund, our aim is to give as many children in our rural, growing communities the same opportunity my grandfather had, but that so many children do not have access to – that of an education. It is thanks to his education that my grandfather was able to broaden his horizons, create what he did and, ultimately, give back to his community.”

Remembering more industry leaders: 
In Memoriam: Steven Foster, Renowned Herbalist, Photographer, Author
In Memoriam: Paul C. Ross, Bioforce USA
In Memoriam: Marlene Lacy, A Way of Life Natural Foods, 1936-2021