Bill Nardelli Jr. wasted no time jumping into the family business following his graduation in June from the University of Delaware. In fact, the 22-year-old already was working for Nardelli Bros. throughout his time at school.
“I’ve always been around the farm with my father, Bill, and my grandfather, James,” said Mr. Nardelli, a sales representative for the Cedarville, NJ-based firm. “As a teenager, I wasn’t totally convinced that this was what I wanted to do as a career, but in high school I started working here more in summers and weekends, and while I was in college I came to the farm to work when school wasn’t in session. I found that the more I learned about it, the more I liked it.”
With a bachelor’s degree in food and agribusiness management coupled with minors in economics and food marketing, and all the working experienced accumulated at the farm over the years, it was pretty certain that Mr. Nardelli was meant to be in the family business.
“My brother James is 19 and he also works on the farm,” said Mr. Nardelli. “We’re the fifth generation in the business. My great-great grandfather, Michael Nardelli, emigrated from central Italy in the 1800s and started growing green beans. He became so well known that in time he had earned the nickname ‘King Bean.’”
He said that what he likes most about the produce business is following the movement from field to fork, and that he has the ability to grow, pack and load produce on a truck.
“It gives me a lot of satisfaction to know that someone will be eating that item the next day,” he said. “Supplying the local community with fresh produce has been a part of our business culture for five generations, and the current locally grown movement is helping us tremendously. It’s a major buzz, and it continues to pick up momentum.”
Nardelli Bros. began using the slogan “Fresher by Miles” a quarter of a century ago. Mr. Nardelli said that with the development of refrigerated transportation, produce began moving long distances. But today’s fuel prices and the consumer demand for locally produced foods are changing the face of the industry.
“My great-grandfather used to quote our slogan regularly, and after him my grandfather and my father used it,” he said. “Today, my brother and I are committed to its interpretation.”
The company is strongly involved with the Jersey Fresh program, and it uses the logo on its packaging along with its “Lakeview Farms” brand. Mr. Nardelli said that New Jersey is a pacesetter in the locally grown movement, adding that the New Jersey Department of Agriculture does an outstanding job helping to promote state-grown produce.
Nardelli Bros. produces a full line of fresh produce, including wet crops such as parsley, celery, cilantro, lettuces and other leafy greens, which kick off the Garden State’s growing season in the spring. By late May, green and yellow squash come on along with peppers, eggplant and other dry items. Nardelli Bros. also handles blueberries, peaches, nectarines, corn, sweet potatoes, yams, cabbage and strawberries. Its farms in Cedarville and Vineland, NJ, produce over 80 items.
Nardelli Bros. sells to retailers, foodservice operators, food processors and wholesalers, and it ships to all points east of the Mississippi River as well as into eastern Canada.
Besides handling the full line of New Jersey-grown produce, the firm also brings product in from partner farms in other states during the off-season.
Mr. Nardelli is an avid golfer and played throughout high school and college. It is a tough sport for a grower in New Jersey, however, because when the weather is good enough to head to the course, it’s also high-time on the farm.
“When I can make time, I play at the Great Bay Country Club in Somers Point, New Jersey,” he said. “Winters in the past few years have been a bit milder than normal, which gives me more of an opportunity to play. During our growing and harvesting season, a 70- to 75-hour workweek is the norm around the farm. We harvest in the morning, pack and load trucks throughout the day for delivery the next day.”
He also enjoys fishing with his dad and brother, and they target marlin and tuna in the Canyons about 60-70 miles off of the New Jersey coast, as well as flounder and striped bass in the back bays of the state.
And he enjoys playing basketball in his spare time. He played throughout high school and recreationally in college. An aspiration of his is to travel to Italy in the future.
His vacation, understandably, takes place in the winter. He usually heads to Florida for relaxation on the beach, although he has also fished off the coast of Florida.
“I have a close-knit family, and we spend a lot of time together,” explained Mr. Nardelli. “Dad and my mom, Sandra, are at the business every day, along with my brother. It’s nice that all four of us are together all day long.”
Mr. Nardelli believes that his generation in the produce business will make its biggest mark and change by bringing technology into companies like Nardelli Bros. “We have the advantage of learning a lot about computer technology in school today, which many of our parents did not have,” he said. “I helped to develop our web site, and we’re now fine-tuning our traceability labels. I make sure everything is working smoothly.
“Nardelli also has a Facebook page now,” he continued. “Because we are primarily a wholesale company, it doesn’t offer the advantages for us that it does for marketing and retail firms, but it’s important to have a presence on it today. I see it growing tremendously in the future.”
During college, Mr. Nardelli was a member of the National Agri-Marketing Association and participated with about 30 other university students for about two years to develop a chicken-based dip with soy wheat. During that time, he traveled to Kansas City, MO, facility to attend an NAMA convention.
“Major tractor, seed and other agriculture companies exhibited at the convention, and I had the chance to see first-hand how they are using social media today,” said Mr. Nardelli. “I also attended symposiums about social media that described how it will change the industry in the future. The convention was also a great opportunity for my teammates and students from other colleges to connect with companies regarding future job opportunities.”
Mr. Nardelli said he maintains a close relationship with his adviser, Ulrich Toensmyer, a professor at the University of Delaware.
“He has always been a great source of inspiration and a wonderful mentor,” he said. “We bounce ideas off of each other and talk about how agriculture is changing now and how it will continue to evolve in the future.”