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Deardorff Family Farms increasing organic offerings every year

Tom Deardorff II, president of Deardorff Family Farms in Oxnard, CA, told The Produce News that the company is fully integrated.

“We do everything from growing, packing, distributing and marketing,” said Mr. Deardorff. “Our organic line was started in 2006 under the ‘Deardorff Organics’ label, and it has increased in production and in demand every year since.”

He added that it takes time to transition acreage at the company’s ranches to organic, but it is increasing each year.

“We had a major acreage transition to organics last year, and we will have another one in 2012,” he said. “In addition to increasing production of our core commodities on the new organic acreage, we will be supplementing with more seasonal items.”

The recession, in Mr. Deardorff’s experience, impacted the conventional side of the fresh-produce industry more than it did the organic side.

“The interest in organics continues to grow, although it sort of flat-lined for a while,” he said. “But we are offering products that have additional interest to retailers and foodservice operators. Moving forward, we see growth opportunity ahead.”

This fall, the company is promoting sweet bell and specialty organic peppers as well as heirloom tomatoes. Mr. Deardorff said that it’s about a three-month run with the items. The company will integrate these seasonal products to help the farming side match up with what the market is demanding during that period of time.

“The call for organics is great from late summer to mid-fall here in the Ventura area of California,” he added. “We’re testing some items on both the growing and marketing sides, and we will be looking at other areas to produce organics in the future.”

Deardorff Family Farms’ organic product line includes celery, squashes, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuces and other leafy greens.

“We partnered with the Bunn family in Salinas this year for organic celery,” said Mr. Deardorff. “This will enable us to extend our marketing period in the future.”

The company was started in the Los Angeles area in 1937 by Mr. Deardorff’s great-grandfather, W.H. Deardorff. In the 1960s, the firm resettled in Ventura. Tom and Scott Deardorff, who is company secretary, are the fourth-generation of family members to operate the business.

Mr. Deardorff said that he looks at the locally grown movement as being related to knowledge, and local and organic produce work hand in hand.

“People want to know where their food comes from,” he said. “As we’re also a conventional producer, we like to fit the local profile into both categories and to service Southern California with the products they want.

“Chefs want local product today. And if it’s organic, all the better,” he continued. “This is a good opportunity for the produce industry to tell its story because people want to know their farmers, especially when they are generational farmers like we are.”

Mr. Deardorff said that the grower-shipper side of the produce industry needs to keep the availability of organics high enough to meet the demand.

“In the early 2000s, that wasn’t possible,” he said. “Now we’re coming out of that plateau, and the challenge is to meet the organic market 365 days a year. There are good opportunities ahead of us in organics.

“From our viewpoint, we’re excited about the future and we’re excited about organics,” he added.