George Gotsis recalls his early years working in west Mexico produce deal
by Rand Green | December 20, 2010
NOGALES, AZ — Jorge (George) Gotsis Cevallos, owner and president of
Omega Produce Co. Inc., here, was one of two first-year recipients of the
Fresh Produce Association of the Americas' new Pillar of the Industry award
presented at the FPAA’s 42nd Annual Produce Convention Nov. 6.
The other recognition went posthumously to Roy Lundstrom, who had spent
much of his long produce career at GAC Produce
Mr. Gotsis first began to work for Omega, his sister’s distribution company, in
1951. In time, he became a partner, and in 1961 he began buying the
FPAA Chairman Jaime Chamberlain, who presented the award, called Mr.
Gotsis "a true leader and pioneer in the industry" and noted that he “is
recognized for forging new directions in produce, importing mangoes in the
late 1960s and table grapes in the early 1980s.” He is looked upon by
Mexican growers as having “a character that is beyond reproach.”
The Produce News visited with Mr. Gotsis at his office in the Omega facility in
Rio Rico Industrial Park Nov. 9, and during the interview, Mr. Gotsis recalled
some of the early days of his 64 years in the West Mexico produce business.
Following the end of World War II, for about five years prior to coming to
Nogales, Mr. Gotsis worked with his father, one of the pioneers in growing
tomatoes in Mexico for the U.S. market, helping with the farming operations
in the states of Sonora and Sinaloa.
“I went down there in [June] 1946,” he said, and at the time his father had
farming operations in three locations, the earliest being in Huatabampo in
southern Sonora. When the crop was about ready for harvest, his father sent
him south to a village near Bamoa in northern Sinaloa to bring back workers
to pack the crop. After he had arrived in the village and recruited the
necessary help, he called the ranch in Huatabampo, a process that then took
about eight hours just to get the call through, and he was told, “Don’t bring
them, because we froze out last night. Tell them we’ll come back for them in
about a month to take them to Guasave” for the harvest there.
A month later, “we froze out there also” right at harvest time, he said.
In another month, the crop in Culiacan was ready, and that one didn’t freeze
out, he said, but his father had lost two-thirds of his crop in that first year.
At the time, the only two items that were grown in volume in west Mexico for
the U.S. market were round tomatoes and bell peppers, Mr. Gotsis recalled.
There were “no Romas, no cucumbers.” The cucumber deals began after the
Cuban revolution when farmers who had been growing cucumbers in Cuba
relocated their operations to Mexico.
There have been many changes in the west Mexico deal, of course, in the
intervening 64 years since Mr. Gotsis started in the business, and in Nogales
in the nearly 60 years that he has been with Omega, but what has not
changed is that Omega Produce is still distributing Mexican-grown produce
to customers around the United States.
Last year, “we had a very small deal” because “we lost two [packing] sheds”
that Omega had been representing. That was because “we couldn’t get
together” on such matters as financial advances for the crop. But this year,
Omega has picked up another shipper in Mexico, “so we should be about the
same as the year before last.”
The principal items Omega will be handling this year are Roma tomatoes,
summer squash, winter squash, green bell peppers, red bell peppers,
cucumbers, tomatillos, mini-cucumbers and “a few Jalapeños,” he said.
The products will come from three growing areas — Hermosillo, Sonora, and
Los Mochis and Culiacan, Sinaloa. The farming operations consist of a total of
about 200 hectares (around 500 acres) of shade house production, mostly for
cucumbers, bell peppers and Romas, as well as open-field production, with
both types of farming in all three areas.
“We have started with yellow squash” out of Hermosillo, and “will start
tomorrow [Nov. 10] on winter squash,” specifically Kabocha, which “mostly
goes to Japan,” he said. By late December, he expected all of the company’s
vegetable items to be in full swing.
The products are packed in the “Omega” and “Tri-Nation” house labels as
well as various grower labels such as “Elena,” “5 Reyes” “Roberto’s” and