Jeff Percy, vice president of desert production for Castroville, CA-based Ocean Mist Farms, has been with the firm for 20 years. And that is exactly how long the company has been producing vegetables in the California and Arizona deserts.
“I am the desert guy,” he quipped.
While to many the switch to desert production every winter may represent a relatively short augmentation of the year-round production that Ocean Mist enjoys in its Salinas Valley locations, to Mr. Percy this is a year-round commitment. “We start planting in August, and we harvest through March. And then we prepare the ground for a few warm-weather crops that we grow for some other shippers for a short time.” By then, it is almost August, and the cycle begins anew.
Ocean Mist grows winter vegetables in California’s Coachella Valley and Imperial Valley as well as in the Yuma district in Arizona. In addition, the company produces a number of crops south of the border including green onions, Brussels sprouts, leeks and radishes at this time of year.
This season, Mr. Percy expects a fairly typical year, but he said that Ocean Mist has increased its production every year — and that is again the case. Its main winter commodities are desert artichoke, broccoli, cauliflower, leaf items, Romaine, Romaine hearts, spinach and head lettuce.
Artichokes have been the company’s signature item for many years with the goal of having the winter desert crop, which is an annual crop, closely mirror the traditional crop from Castroville, which is perennial. Mr. Percy said that the company’s research and development department has been working on that issue for years. “We have to fool Mother Nature,” he said. “We plant the crop in August when it is 110 degrees, and we begin harvesting it in December, when it can be freezing or near freezing,” he said.
Over the years, the research department has successfully produced two different artichoke types that look very similar.
Ocean Mist completed an upgrade and expansion of its Baja Mist production facility in late spring of this year, so this is the first winter season with that new state-of-the-art facility. Located in Mexico’s Mexicali Valley, the building was upgraded to handle the increased volume of Mexican product that the company was offering. The new plant has doubled the capacity to process and ship all Ocean Mist commodities grown in Mexico.
In a company press release, Ocean Mist Farms Vice President of Production Troy Boutonnet said that the facility mirrors the company’s U.S. operations from a processing and food-safety standpoint. “Prior to the expansion, the Ocean Mist Farms facility in Mexico was operating at capacity. We are now poised to meet growing customer demand for green onions and Brussels sprouts,” said Mr. Boutonnet.
Ocean Mist Farms developed the state-of-the-art cooler and process design after years of observing processing facilities — in the produce sector and outside it — including Coca-Cola Mexico. The research lead to design innovations that address product quality, shelf life, food safety, employee comfort in the work environment and security.
“The upgraded design of our plant in Mexico exceeds the current industry standards for product risk management,” Mr. Boutonnet said. “We want this facility to be a showcase for all green onion producers regardless of the location.”