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Deardorff Family Farms expands organic acreage, diversifies and adds marketing staff

by Rand Green | October 03, 2010
Deardorff Family Farms in Oxnard, CA, has been focused on sustainable farming practices since the company's inception in 1937, according to Tom Deardorff II, president.

"It is something that has always been important to us as a family, something that we thought we had always been doing," he said.

But over the years, the company has become “more intelligent in our approach to it,” he said in a Sept. 24 interview with The Produce News. This year, the company has expanded significantly its organic acreage and the number of organic items it grows and has added two key people to the sales and marketing team.

A major recommitment to sustainability was made in 2006 when the company changed its name (it had been known as Deardorff-Jackson since 1944). Mr. Deardorff told The Produce News in September 2006 that “the name change is about defining who we are and what we do. My father, uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather earned a reputation for the Deardorff name that was based on hard work, honesty and integrity. We proudly carry the Deardorff name and will continue to honor their efforts with a commitment to ensuring environmental and community health.”

That commitment was reflected in a new company slogan, “Sustainable farming for a healthier life,” and a movement in to organic farming, he said.

“New practices are now in operation that employ a much lighter impact on the environment and generate bountiful, great-tasting produce. Deardorff Family Farms is dedicated to reducing chemical use, improving water quality and conservation as well as promoting natural fertility,” Mr. Deardorff said.

After four years of experience in organic farming, the company has undertaken a major expansion in its organic program for the 2010-11 season, with additional acreage, additional commodities and new sales and marketing staff.

Paul Rabadan, formerly an organics sales executive with MCL Fresh Inc. in Los Angeles, who had previously worked for many years at Earthbound Farm in San Juan Bautista, CA, has been hired as director of organic sales.

Scott Albertson, who was previously vice president of business development for Ballantine Produce in Reedley, CA, joined Deardorff Family Farms in June as director of marketing and business development.

“We wanted to be market-driven and market intelligently,” Mr. Deardoff said. “We brought Scott in to help us with the market intelligence, and we are bringing Paul in since he has been there and done it and knows the people in the industry” and can “help shape the program.”

Dave Cook continues as sales manager and will now focus on the conventional side of the business. Doug Lowthorp also continues on sales.

Having Mr. Rabadan on board will be “good from the conventional sales standpoint,” Mr. Cook said, saying that it will enable him to concentrate on the conventional business “without having to spend a lot of time on organic.”

Also, for its organic farming department, Deardorff Family Farms hired Tony Patino to assist with its organic growing and packing operations. Mr. Patino has over 15 years of organic experience.

For this fall, Deardorff Family Farms will add to its already well-known celery program by introducing broccoli, Romaine, green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, green cabbage, red cabbage, napa, bok choy, baby bok choy, spinach, cilantro, collards, daikon, kale, parsley and chard. Also, the company will add organic strawberries starting this winter, according to an Oct. 1 press release.

Mr. Albertson said that over the last four years, Deardorff has been acquiring leases on additional organic ground and has also been converting more of its existing acreage to organic production — a three-year process.

Altogether, the company now farms about 2,000 acres of crops, mainly on the Oxnard Plain and in the Fillmore-Piru area a few miles inland. About 500 acres of that is now in organic production, “with more to come,” he said.

A new organic label, “Deardorff Organic,” is being designed and will be introduced soon, and “some exciting new items as well as packaging formats” will also be introduced.

Historically, the major products grown by Deardorff Family Farms have been celery and tomatoes, and the company also has many years of experience with strawberries. This year, after conducting growing trials with many seed varieties, the company is expanding its organic crop mix with the addition of 15-20 new vegetables.

“We are already harvesting bok choys, chards and kale” in addition to organic and conventional celery and tomatoes, Mr. Albertson said, adding that there is “a serious focus on looking at different seed varieties” with a goal to becoming “a strong niche player in specialty, flavor-driven vegetables and berries.”

The company is “looking at how to expand its own go-to-market capabilities and decided there would need to be a focused sales and marketing department devoted to the new organic direction,” he said. “Our goal is to be very engaging with retail and with our distributor partners” to be sure that “we are growing what the market wants.”