PEMBERVILLE (WTVG) - We live in one of the best places in the country to grow tomatoes, and it is harvest season right now. That means six-day work weeks at a local company that sells it's products all over America. You've probably seen the Dei Fratelli name in stores, but you might not know that it's based right here in northwest Ohio.
What's happening inside this Pemberville processing plant right now ends up on store shelves around America, Canada and even parts of Europe.The Pemberville plant is one of three Hirzel Canning plants in northwest Ohio. The other two are in Northwood and Ottawa.
Workers here make the retail products the company sells under the Dei Fratelli name. Joe Hirzel is the Plant Manager, "We do everything from sauces to diced tomatoes and whole and stewed tomatoes to tomato juice."
The tomato harvest is packed into a couple months, it runs from mid-August through mid-October. Employment triples at the Hirzel Canning plants during the season. Steve Hirzel is the President of the company, "These are long days. If you're a farmer you know that when you are in harvest it is almost round-the-clock work to get the crop in. It is certainly a very limited window."
During harvest season 25 truckloads of tomatoes arrive in Pemberville every day. That adds up to about 500 tons a day, and three thousand tons of tomatoes a week.
When the trucks first pull up outside the plant, they're filled with water.
The process of getting the tomatoes out of the truck without bruising them is called floating. It was developed decades ago by the Hirzel's grandfather.
Everything that has the Dei Fratelli name is truly a local product. Steve says the tomatoes all come from farms in NW Ohio and SE Michigan, "Our growers are all local. We have about a half dozen farmers in the Pemberville and BG areas, and then we also have 6-7 in southeast Michigan. About half our crop is grown within ten miles of our three facilities."
There's a reason tomatoes from our area are so popular. Steve says it comes down to soil and climate, "We complain about it a lot, but the climate here is good. We get a good freeze in the winter and then good rains in the spring. The soil, which is a good Lake Erie bed, is perfect. When you combine those things you get a unique and special flavor."
And this is a special company. Joe says five generations of the Hirzel family have now worked at the growing business, "It's an honorable job, feeding people. That's been our life ad we've all taken a lot of pride in doing that."
Dei Fratelli products are sold at big retailers like Meijer, Walmart and Kroger as well as local stores like Walt Churchill's Markets and Kazmaier's.
We've posted a link if you'd like to learn more about the company and the family behind it.