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During a recent trip to the East Side, Sunland Inc.’s closed peanut butter plant was the saddest, loneliest place we saw. A New Mexico success story, Sunland was the nation’s largest producer of organic peanut butter and a major employer in Portales.
The company’s descent into salmonella contamination, regulatory response, financial troubles, and bankruptcy is a cautionary tale for anyone wanting to enter the business of processing food.
That would include a lot of people – everyone from the cook selling her secret salsa to producers of blue corn products. In any discussion of rural job creation, food processors top the list. In the last legislative session, lawmakers passed a memorial signaling their interest in adding commercial kitchens to business incubators.
The story begins with New Mexico’s Valencia peanuts, which are much tastier than Georgia peanuts. In 1988 10 farmers founded Sunland. When it closed last month, Sunland had been making 6,000 pounds of peanut better an hour around the clock for big-name retailers and contracting with about 130 peanut farmers.
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