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Christopher Ranch's Justin Guibert challenges mountains and chefs

Justin Guibert, sales representative for Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, CA, grew up in California's Salinas Valley. Those who know that part of the country also know that agriculture plays a major role in the community, and children there grow up with a strong sense of farming surrounding them.

One of those people is 28-year-old Justin Guibert.

"Between high school and my first year of college at the University of California, a friend was working at the Monterey Agricultural Cooperative Extension," said Mr. Guibert. "He was leaving for school and was hoping to find someone to fill his job. I was hired, and that was my first work experience in agriculture."

Mr. Guibert attended UCLA from 1998 to 2000, taking courses in psychology. He also worked during his college years at UCLA Conference & Catering, a division of the university's on-campus dining services.

"I worked closely with chefs during that time, learning about food and foodservice," he said. "At the same time, many of my friends from high school had started careers in agriculture. I moved back to Salinas in 2007, hoping to break into the field myself, but it was near the end of the year and not much was being planted or harvested."

Mr. Guibert's girlfriend, Heather MacDonald, was working at Head Start Nursery in Gilroy, CA, at the time. The company is a producer of high-quality vegetable transplants and ornamental plugs. The owners of her company work closely with Christopher Ranch.

"Through that association, I was able to get my r?sum? to Christopher Ranch," said Mr. Guibert. "With my foodservice background, the company felt I fit well with its current drive to increase its foodservice division. I started on July 1, 2008, and have loved every moment since. Everyone is a pleasure to work with, and it's a good company with which to do business. We all wear a lot of different hats and always try to help each other out."

Green and red Bell peppers were starting to move when Mr. Guibert joined the company. They gave him an opportunity to learn about the movement and to meet a lot of the staff. Today, his primary focus is to help increase the foodservice division. He works with a group of customers in garlic and other commodities.

Ms. MacDonald and Mr. Guibert have been sweethearts since high school. They recently purchased a home together in Hollister, CA, about 20 minutes from Christopher Ranch's office.

"There are definitely wedding bells in our future, but we haven't set the date yet," said Mr. Guibert. "And Heather and I recently brought a golden retriever named Rocco into our family. We also have a cat we rescued named Harper. Rocco is only 16 months old, so we spend a lot of time walking, running and hiking with him. It's excellent training for a dog and great exercise for us."

Mr. Guibert is very athletic. He goes to the gym several days a week for weight training, and he loves to hike and go mountain climbing. Every year he sets a goal or two for himself that includes physical activity.

"One of my goals this year is to participate in the Avia Wildflower Triathlon in Lake San Antonio [CA] in April," he said. "This is a sprint event that will [entail] about a one-mile swim, a 10-mile run and a 20-mile bike ride."

Another goal Mr. Guibert set for himself in 2009 is to climb Mount Hood, about 50 miles southeast of Portland, OR, with his father, Gerry, and his brother, Matt.

"Mount Hood is one of the most climbed mountains in the Western Hemisphere because of its elevation of over 11,000 feet and its accessibility," said Mr. Guibert. "There have been numerous rescues on the mountain because people are either unprepared or do not understand how treacherous it can be. Ours will be a weekend trip. We will spend the first night getting acclimated to the elevation, and then try to summit in the early morning. The goal is to summit and get back down the mountain before late morning or early afternoon because the weather can flip suddenly."

Mr. Guibert and his father and brother are planning to do the climb in July because the least amount of snow is on the mountain at that time of year. There are, however, glaciers on the summit throughout the year.

"Heather and I love to travel and to be outdoors," added Mr. Guibert. "Now that we have Rocco, we plan to do a lot more camping and hiking."

Back at the office, much of Mr. Guibert's time is spent working with chefs to help increase their knowledge about the difference between Chinese garlic and domestic garlic.

"Many people in foodservice don't know where their produce is coming from," he stated. "They are surprised to learn that so much garlic comes from China or that domestic garlic is so much more intense. Our goal is to get chefs to take the flavor challenge and compare Chinese garlic with our domestic garlic. Once they do, they admit there is a major difference."

Mr. Guibert has traveled to the San Francisco Bay area to meet with chefs. He admitted that the foodservice industry is taking a pretty hard hit from the current economy, but that doesn't dissuade him. He said that people are not eating out as much, but that means they are cooking home more.

"When the economy rebounds and people begin to enjoy dining out again, our hard work will pay off," he said. "In the meantime, we're not letting up on our aggressive promotion and marketing to the foodservice sector. Our new philosophy is 'All garlic is not created equal.' We are working hard to differentiate our products from competitors and redefine attitudes toward garlic."

Mr. Guibert said that historically, China has had a huge impact on the garlic market because of lower costs.

"But price-buying shadows the importance of freshness, flavor, food safety, local origin, supporting American farming families and sustainability, which are equally or more important to chefs and consumers," he said. "Considering all these factors from a value standpoint, we believe Christopher Ranch garlic is the best option available anywhere in the world."