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Deardorff continues organic rollout with expanded summer crops

“We have an exciting summer planned as part of the continuation of the rollout of ‘Deardorff Organics,’ “ said Scott Albertson, director of marketing and business development for Deardorff Family Farms in Oxnard, CA.”

Over the past year, Deardorff has expanded its organic acreage fivefold and diversified its organic production with the addition of a number of new items for the 2010-11 winter program. On Jan. 14, the company introduced its “Deardorff Organics” brand which, according to a press release on that date, is “a showcase of the company’s commitment to sustainability, expressed through organic farming and environmentally responsible and recyclable packaging.”

Now “we are entering into our first summer packing everything [grown organically by the company] in the [new organic] label,” Mr. Albertson said June 1. “But it is by no means our first summer in organic production.” Deardorff has been growing summer crops organically for about seven years, in addition to its conventional production. This summer, however, “we are really expanding beyond our core [commodities] into a handful of other things on the production level.”

The production of leaf lettuces as well as cooking greens such as kales and chards that Deardorff has been involved in through the winter will continue for a while, he said. “But coming into heavy production” for the summer will be such warm weather crops as “our vine-ripe field-grown round and Roma tomatoes” as well as mixed heirloom tomatoes. There are customers who are “really looking for that,” he said.

Additionally, “we will be doing green beans and a collection of hot and sweet peppers” such as jalapeños, serranos, pasillas and Anaheims, as well as red, yellow and green bell peppers. “We also have zucchinis and cukes,” he said. The offerings will constitute a “taste of Ventura County,” since “we will be able to be here with a supply of the things that grow best during our summer here.”

In addition to the products that Deardoff will be growing organically on a production scale, the company is engaging in “some aggressive testing of new varieties and new commodities to continue the expansion,” Mr. Albertson said. “We will be doing some interesting experiments with some different seed companies … so we can be a real leader in propagating and expanding the offerings of organic items that are available from organic seed.”

In all, “we will be exploring over 100 different items this summer with one to 10 plants each so we can see what might be the next great flavors and eye-catching items” in the organic category.

The company is “working on some different programs to be able to get these [experimental] items directly into consumers hands so we can have a feedback mechanism” allowing consumers to “tell us directly what they like.” The goal, he explained, is to grow products that consumers want.

One of the principal commodities grown by Deardorff, both conventionally and organically, is celery. This summer, the company will expand its organic celery production, Mr. Albertson said. There are periods during the summer when celery is not permitted to be grown in Oxnard “because of an agreement among growers” to keep disease vectors under control.

Therefore, in order to have a supply of organic celery through the summer, the company has “decided to put in some production in Salinas,” CA. That will enable Deardorff to offer organic celery to customers 12 months of the year, he said.

“Overall, the tide is rising” for organic consumption in the marketplace, Mr. Albertson continued. “As more is available, more is consumed in the overall marketplace.” But many consumers who like to buy organic produce “are also prone to be thinking about sustainability and buying local, or from a certain locale because they like the quality that comes from that region, or from a family farming company. So we are really trying to make sure that people know our roots are with a family farming operation, and we are sustainably farming land that we live on.”

In addition to “everything that we are doing for customers throughout the United States and Canada,” he said, “we have been able to develop a strong local following.”