Vendors: Sweeney Construction

This week at Pine Island, it’s all business as usual: bloom is just about over and the bee boxes are being removed, we continue work on renovation, and of course, being July, it’s hot out there! So instead of an update on our sprinklers, we decided to bring you the first in an occasional series on some of our favorite vendors. And who better to kick this feature off than Sweeney Construction?

Sweeney Construction, started by Tom Sweeney in 1976, has been working with Pine Island for several years now. After forty years in the business, Tom has retired, and his son Mike is now in charge. “Our first project for Pine Island was the big camp, back when you guys were still in the blueberry business,” Mike says. “It worked out that it was completed right before it was time to use it! We’ve since done probably 12 to 15 different projects over here.” Among those projects: rebuilt three employee homes, renovations on the two camps on the main road, apartment renovations, built three garages, and of course, renovated our main office from a private home to to a building suitable for running a large cranberry operation. Most recently, Sweeney finished the roof on the office with an amazing turnaround time. “Not a lot of companies who can supply that manpower,” Mike says. “It’s been a good relationship for us over the years.” He has high praise for the team members he’s worked with, as well. “It’s been nothing but good interactions with Bill [Haines] and Bryan [vonHahmann],” he says. “And a lot of the jobs here are a little easier because Pine Island has so much of their own equipment. Excavation, septic systems…it helps a lot.” He especially singled out our facilities team (particularly Mike Guest and Louis Cantafio) as well as the precision work of Junior Colon on the excavator.

And Sweeney is also looking ahead! In addition to doing repair to work to a historic farmhouse in Eastampton, they’re working on energy-efficient housing. “Our latest project is with Unity Homes in New Hampshire,” Mike says. “It’s a net zero energy usage house: solar panels, post and beam constructions, exposed materials. It’s being built in-factory in New Hampshire and we’re assembling it down here after we finish the foundation work; we’re planning to set the panels in early August.”

As far as Pine Island is concerned, we will of course let CEO Bill Haines have the last word: “Sweeney Construction is one of our favorite vendors. It’s been a pleasure to work with Tom and Mike. They’re always professional, they always do exactly what they say they’re going to do, they always get it right, and they stand behind their work. I can’t say enough good things about them, and I would recommend them to anyone for any project.”

Around the farm

The rain has let up a little, and our team is out there making things happen!

Bog renovation, of course, remains a top priority, with Junior Colon land-leveling and with the team putting in water lines.

Facilities and Equipment are working on refurbishing the pumps and putting up new pump houses:

In other sections of the farm, regular bog maintenance is ongoing, and the new monitors are going up:

And last but not least, our forestry management areas appear to be thriving!

“Powering” through adversity

The storms that blew through southern New Jersey this week left a lot of the area without electric, and Pine Island was no exception. But our Facilities/Equipment team came through for everyone!

Facilities/Equipment Manager Louis Cantafio says, “When the power went out Tuesday night, we figured it’d be back up sooner rather than later, so we spent Wednesday working on things we could do without electric. By the end of the day, though, we realized we were in it for the long haul; estimates were for power being restored as late as Saturday. So Bill [Haines] called me on his way home and said, we need to put together a plan and make sure everyone has water.” Bill told Louis to assume he’d have whatever resources he needed and to let him know if there were any roadblocks, and the team was off and running.

“The biggest challenge was getting enough generators,” Louis says. “I hit five places and found ten generators. I’d back up, unload, and the guys started unpacking, putting in oil and fuel, staging them at the locations we’d identified along with additional fuel cans, and Mike [Guest] and Emmanuel [Colon] would follow shortly afterward to make sure the wells got powered. It was amazing.” Facilities Supervisor Mike Guest agrees: “This was definitely a team effort, no question. Louis did a great job finding everything we needed, then the shop got them up and running…it couldn’t have been done and done that fast without excellent communication.”

“We did good!” says Equipment Supervisor Carlos Baez. “The generators would arrive, Fred [Henschel] and I started building them, and then Ernie and I started to deliver them while Fred and Coco [Mercado] started filling 5 gallon cans and set them up with every generator. You can do without a lot and keep going, but you can’t do it without water.” Fred adds, “It was a production! But now we’re going to disassemble everything, label it, and then store it in a secured area and add them to the maintenance plan, so we’re ready if it ever happens again.”

For his part, CEO Bill Haines is impressed. “Everyone did a hell of a job,” he says.

Last but not least, of course, some of our intrepid office staff made the rounds Thursday in a Gator, bringing water to everyone who was out working so hard!

So a huge thank you to our Facilities and Equipment team members Louis Cantafio, Mike Guest, Emmanuel Colon, Carlos Baez, Ernie Waskiewicz, Coco Mercado, and Fred Henschel; to our office team members Debra Signorelli and Stacey DeLaurentis, for keeping our hard-working team hydrated; to Matt Giberson and PIICM Manager Cristina Tassone, for keeping the planes moving; and to our neighbors at Lee Brothers, for allowing us to use their wells to fill our own tanks. Our team is second to none in the industry, and that is in no small part due to their willingness to do whatever it takes for both our land and our people.

Renovation updates: pump houses

Our team was ready this week for the next step in our Black Rock renovation: installing the new engines at the pump houses! This part of the reno is handled by our Facilities/Equipment team, and they certainly have a lot to do.

“Whenever we renovate a system, everything gets replaced new. All new irrigation, all new underdrain, all new water control structures,” explains Facilities/Equipment manager Louis Cantafio. “The old engines come out and get completely rebuilt; they were definitely old enough to replace. We’re also pre-gaming a little bit for the automation process. It’s a little more efficient for our team to work on this at the shop rather than going engine to engine out in the field. Because when the reno team is ready to set main line, the engines must be there already. We don’t ever want to hold up the reno team; the stuff they depend on has to be done ahead of time.” Then once the engines have been set up, Facilities Supervisor Mike Guest can put the buildings up.

Welder Fred Henschel has been working on the aluminum fixtures for the new pumps. “I started these a few months back,” he says. “When the old ones come out, I do try to recycle some parts in other projects, but with these we like to try to keep everything new. We don’t want to have to worry about a line going bad because it rotted away in only a couple of years.” Nonetheless, he likes to be prepared, and is also making a few spares, just to be on the safe side. It’s not much like work, according to him: “I just like to build stuff, really!”

With seven systems to take care of, that’s a lot of work, but the equipment team is up to the challenge. “It’s all about preventing downtime for other departments,” says Louis. “They shouldn’t be held up because of equipment.” And now that everything is installed, our reno team can move on to the next step: installing the main lines!

Facilities: Camp renovation

One of the principles of Pine Island Cranberry’s facilities management program is care: making sure all facilities are safe, clean, and attractive. Particular care is taken every year to maintain the camp to our own high standards in order to attract and retain seasonal team members. To that end, in 2008 we built a new seasonal camp, which our team has impeccably maintained.

This year, we are continuing to uphold our high standards by renovating the older camp buildings. “The bigger camp building hasn’t been used in a long time,” says Facilities and Equipment manager Louis Cantafio. “We like to take care of our seasonal guys, because they do so much for us, and Bill [CEO Bill Haines] is a big fan of efficiency and prefers to use our resources to the fullest extent possible.” This made updating the old camp a no-brainer. The building can hold up to six people, each of whom will get their own room with attached bath. “It’s going to look really good,” says GM Fred Torres. “Everything’s new. New windows, new doors, new bathrooms, new kitchen. It’s going to be really, really nice in there.” In addition, there will be a screened porch area off the kitchen to allow the team to comfortable outside seating during the warmer months.

We are also going to be updating the building known as the “little camp”. Formerly a three-bedroom building with a tiny combined living/kitchen area, the building will have two bedrooms, an enlarged living area, and a renovated kitchen, making the place a great location for college interns or long-term consultants from Chile.

Ultimately, “we’ll have better accommodations and better treatment across the board for our seasonal guys,” says Louis. “They do a lot for us, and it’s important to take good care of them.”

Packing House Team

The daily routine at our cranberry platform is a simple but continuous process, and relies on constant communication between the team leaders and the packing house team, as well as between the packing house and the receiving station. It remains the same as always: each team on the bogs has been assigned a color: Orange, Blue, or Green. In order to properly track each team’s production, their bogs are assigned a different section on the packing house platform. Each bog is run through the blowers separately. The first load from each new bog has a post-it note attached to it with our Exhibit A number, or bog identification number. It is the team leader’s responsibility every day to let Mike Guest, our facilities supervisor, know what their plan for the day is and to keep him informed of any problems that might occur during the day.

First, the forklift crew, led by Emmanuel Colon, unload the full cranberry boxes from the trucks coming out of the field. If the boxes are coming from the bog that Mike is sending through the blowers, then the forklift crew will dump the cranberries from those boxes into the hoppers. If Mike is not running that particular bog the forklift crew will stack the boxes in the appropriate spot for that crew on the platform. Once the cranberries are poured into the hoppers, they pass along the belt through the blowers, which are used to partially dry the fruit and remove as many of the leaves as possible. Once the leaves are blown out, the fruit drops onto another belt and from there move up the truck elevator into the waiting trailer. Team member Harry Mick keeps the loading moving; he signals our drivers, Josue and Pedro, to keep the trailer inching forward as each section is filled with fruit. It is then his task to halt the line when the trailer is full or the bog is finished in order to bring the next waiting trailer forward.

While all of this is going on, other team members are busy rinsing off the belts in order to keep the equipment as debris-free as possible. They also take advantage of pauses in loading to sweep up the extras and push them toward the debris pile. In addition, everyone pitches in when necessary to clear out the hoppers, which occasionally can get jammed. The last box out of a bog usually has a lot of leaves, grass, and other bog debris, and can clog the line and cause hold-ups both here and at the receiving station if we do not take care of it immediately. Therefore, the constant washing of the equipment and attention to detail by the packing house crew help keep our harvest running.

Mike always welcomes any ideas from his crew to improve the process. “They’re the ones who are on it every day; if they come to me and ask if we can try something, I’ll always see if it’s doable.” He especially relies on the assistance of Emmanuel Colon. Emmanuel, a seasonal team member for seven years, moved up to full-time to assist Mike Guest with our Facilities team. While every day during harvest time is busy, some days are especially hectic, and that’s when Mike relies on Emmanuel the most.

“He’s a hard worker,” Mike says. “Not only is he willing to do anything, he’s also willing to stop and ask questions if it’s something he’s not sure about; he won’t just bluff his way through it. I never have to worry if I have to go somewhere; when Emmanuel is left in charge, things get done and they get done right.”

A devoted husband and father of three, Emmanuel is also highly versatile with excellent technical skills. In his time here, he has helped build the new well at Caley, assisted with the new irrigation lines at Boricua, and done numerous carpentry jobs, both large and small.

“Emmanuel’s very flexible, with a great work ethic,” GM Fred Torres says. “I know he’s busy this time of year, but if I ask him to do something, he’ll get it done. And I don’t have to go back and check; if it’s on his list, it’ll get done. He’s organized. He writes it down, he keeps track.” We’re proud to have a team member like Emmanuel, who is always willing to do “whatever it takes” to help Pine Island Cranberry keep growing!

Facilities Update – June

One of the goals of our Equipment and Facilities program is to have all facilities and equipment ready when needed and to develop maintenance plans that will prevent costly downtime. The team is always looking for ways to improve upon their efficiency.

One of the current projects is re-tooling the new scraper for use in bog renovation. Originally commissioned for crowning dams, it was designed for maximum project flexibility. As we are about to move into the next stage of our latest bog renovation project, it was the perfect time to build a wider fixed blade for this machine in order to help with the land leveling at 11 Acre and Benny’s.

The other ongoing project is improving the driveway and parking area at the shop and ICM building. “We never did finish grading when we took the floater building down,” says Facilities/Equipment Manager Louis Cantafio. “We just made sure it was high enough to get through the winter. But part of our capital improvements projects this year includes adding gutters to our new buildings: the buildings housing the the pickups and the dump trucks as well as the one by the packing house. Part of that will also include running the downspouts under the surface in order to direct water flow toward the ditches.” In order for that to happen, the finished grade needs to be perfect. “Once the truck traffic starts coming through, you don’t want to find out the hard way that the drainage is too close to the surface,” Louis explains.

“Adding gutters and new downspouts as well as regrading the parking area are some of the ways we make our work area nicer,” says Louis. “It looks nice, and it will decrease the need for maintenance in the future, keeping our driveways in more professional condition so they don’t require as much work.” While there are no plans to pave the parking area, we will likely be paving some of our more highly trafficked roadway entrances.

Finally, we improved the airstrip that we maintain for our fertilizer applications. This will kick up a lot less dust, making things easier for everyone involved!


This week at Pine Island Cranberry we’re about ready for winter’s end, pretty as it is.

While our team continues to work on sanding when the weather permits, we have started another project as well: making boxes. As Facilities supervisor Mike Guest explains: “As we grow, our needs grow. As more berries come in, we’re going to need more boxes.” We have two hundred now, and our team is building another fifty. While we try to keep them in constant rotation, it helps to have a sizable reserve in order to keep moving as efficiently as possible, especially at the Sim Place platform.

“A few years back, we built those first two hundred boxes and we built them bigger; they hold fifty percent more than the ones we used to use,” says GM Fred Torres. “But we’re always looking for ways to get better. Now, with the renovations we’ve been doing at Sim Place and at the Oswego section, we’re looking to improve even more.” We’re doing that by starting to widen more dams at Panama and on parts of the home farm (mainly toward the southern end) in order to bring more tractor trailers in for hauling.

“It’s all in the name of efficiency,” says Fred. “Two tractor trailers together can carry eighteen boxes; that’s nine dump truck loads. It saves wear and tear on the dump trucks, it frees up some of the guys whose skills we can use elsewhere, and it helps us haul berries a lot more quickly.” So the plan is to get at least two more tractor trailers, eliminating the need for so many small trucks, and try to strike a balance. In order to make the hauling easier for the trailer drivers, we will be widening dams and turns at Red Road and several of the bogs by the Jonathan Wright reservoir. “That way we can haul and load right from the corners of those bogs,” says Fred. “It’ll be a sight, all those big trucks coming out of the woods!”

But before that, the boxes need to be finished, and various members of our team are doing whatever it takes to help get them done!

PIC History: Floater Building

Pine Island’s facilities team is continuing to improve the shop area by moving on to the next step in our facilities improvement plan: removing the now obsolete “floater building” to make room for employee and visitor parking. The floater building has a long history: back in the 50s, before growers started adopting wet harvesting methods, most cranberries were harvested for the fresh fruit market. Even then Pine Island (then known as Haines & Haines) was concerned with efficiency and waste. “We always had a good team,” says CEO Bill Haines, “but no matter how good our scoopers were, a large percentage of fruit would fall through that we couldn’t access, and that drove my dad crazy.” Once the dry harvest was done, as now, the bogs would be flooded for the winter. Bill Sr. got some flat bottom boats similar to the Everglades airboats, and once the bogs were flooded, he would take the boat out onto the bog. The wash from the boat would shake the berries loose, causing them to float to the surface. The “floaters”, as they were called, were unsuitable to be sold as fresh fruit, and needed to be processed differently. In order to do that, Bill Sr. put up the “floater building”. Eventually, as wet harvesting became more widespread, processing the harvest shifted entirely over to the packing house, and the floater building became storage instead.

It’s a little sad to see the floater building go; it holds a lot of memories for some of our more long-term team members. “It used to be where we gathered first thing in the morning to go over the day’s assignments,” says GM Fred Torres. “It was always the same: Bill Sr. would walk in from his house, saying good morning to everyone, and Bill Jr. would have his binder open on the hood of his truck. Now it’s Bill Jr. coming in and I’m the one with papers on the hood of my truck.”

It was necessary to make some changes, though. “The building wasn’t originally intended for storage, which is what we’d ended up doing with it,” says Facilities manager Louis Cantafio. “The new storage building we’ve put up is a little more spacious, with better lighting and easier access. Plus with the newer shop building and the old office being converted into our new ICM [Integrated Crop Management] facility, we had a shortage of parking for both employees and visitors. Now, we’ll be more efficient, with more contemporary storage as well as improving traffic patterns with better parking for our staff. Plus, it will be easier for the big trucks going in and out.”

The demolition process was also a chance to test some of our newest equipment. Pine Island recently purchased a GoPro camera for training use. “It’s a great opportunity for new team members to see what fairy ring looks like, as well as pest or frost damage,” explains PIICM manager Cristina Tassone. “It’ll also be great for equipment training, so Junior [Colon] volunteered to test it for us!” The following video was taken while Junior was clearing debris from the demolition.

GoPro test – Junior Colon from Pine Island Cranberry on Vimeo.

From Bill’s Desk: “Whatever It Takes”

Our newest feature: the first in an occasional series of entries by CEO Bill Haines.

At Pine Island Cranberry we believe in doing what ever it takes to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. In fact, “Whatever It Takes” is one of the six core values that guide everything we do. This week three of our team demonstrated the kind of dedication it takes to put that core value into action.

The first day of harvest, our Sim Place well went out of commission when the harmonic balancer (also known as a dampener pulley) broke. It has been a dry August and September; our reservoirs are not as full as we would like. The well was crucial to flooding our Panama bogs for their first harvest. Louis Cantafio, manager of Equipment and Facilities, immediately went into action. He dispatched Ernie Waszkiewicz to remove the radiator from the engine to gain access to the balancer. In the meantime, he used every resource available to find the part. After locating one in northern New Jersey that afternoon, he made a four hour round trip to retrieve it. While waiting for Louis to return, Ernie rigged lights to make it possible to repair the engine and put everything back together after dark.

While this was going on, supervisor Matt Giberson, leader of the Blue harvest team, was successfully doing everything possible to flood the Panama bogs for picking. The team hit its target.

When Louis arrived with the balancer, he, Ernie and Matt went right to work. At 9:30 PM, I received a laconic text from Louis stating simply, “Well running”.

I am very proud of the effort, professionalism and dedication they displayed the first day of our 2013 harvest. They are perfect examples of the entire Pine Island team’s determination to do “whatever it takes” to be the best in the world at what we do. I am lucky to have such a team.