Monday, July 30, 2007

Happy Boy Farms

Greg and Toku Beccio started farming organically in 1988 on two acres under the name of Riverside Farms.

Owner Greg Stands Beside His Products

They experienced rapid growth in the spring mix (baby salad greens) business. "When we first started producing this product, it was virtually unknown and there were few buyers. Most produce distributors and retailers had either never used it or weren't interested in handling it. In the beginning, Toku and I would go to the local health food stores, specialty markets and restaurants in the Santa Cruz area and talk with the produce managers and chefs. We told them that this product would become very popular in the future and they should carry it. They regarded us with suspicion; however they reluctantly tried it. Little by little we won over the local stores and restaurants. They were surprised to see the public's favorable

Fresh Harvest Gold Beets

response. Over time, the wholesale business began demanding more and more of the product and we found we couldn't keep up with the demand. Our company grew to over 1,000 acres and 350 full-time employees. In December 1995 we sold our business to a large Salinas corporation. We then began a smaller farming operation with an
emphasis on high quality service, freshness, diversity, and unique specialty items centered around farmers' markets, direct delivery and selected wholesale commodities."

Pre-Washing Station for Mixed Lettuce

Scaling down from the large farm to a new smaller operation made Greg a "happy boy." "Today we farm 125 acres on six separate farms in four separate geographical areas. By being in different microclimates, we are able to grow a large product mix, maintaining a wide range of diversity over an extended period of time. Having a background in business finance has helped with the challenges of operating such a multifaceted operation; however has done little if anything to help us in raising produce. Much of what we learn is through trial and error, usually relying on the expertise of our employees who often have a rich background in agricultural experiences." Happy Boy Farm employs over 50 employees during peak season. Adrian Albor and Renato Campos are two valued employees who are instrumental in the day-to-day operation. "They have an instinct -- they know what we are asking for before we ask for it. I ask them for advice. Any employee that takes an active interest in what we are doing, I let them take the reins." Greg states he pays his employees well and offers free housing on the farm. "Four of my employees have been able to purchase their own homes."

Greg states the most difficult problems are the ever-changing demands placed upon a diversified and complex operation.

Finished Product On Display at Monterey Farmer's Market

"It has the characteristics of a very large business from a logistical and management perspective, coupled with the constraints of a small company such as budgetary and competitive issues. The amount of stress involved is further exacerbated by working with perishable products. Still the many positive aspects outweigh the negatives. Walking through the fields at sunrise or sunset, harvesting your own fresh gourmet produce, and sharing it with friends, chefs or customers at market is an experience unlike any other. It's hard to imagine the grass could be greener anywhere else."

Primary Product-Year-round crops include gourmet baby greens, beets, broccoli, cauliflower

Rows of Cipollini Onion Flats

and carrots. Summer crops include over 40 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, ten varieties of specialty melons, Cipollini onions and specialty potatoes.

"In tomatoes, look for the degree of ripeness which best suits your needs. We harvest vine ripe so shelf life is about a week at best. Check to see that the calyx (the green star at the top) is green and fresh. That's always a good indicator. Avoid bruised fruit. Melons can be tricky since some varieties have no fragrance or outward appearance of ripeness, while others have that sweet, fruity smell. If you are unsure, ask the salesperson staffing the market. They are knowledgeable and experienced.
For salad greens look for freshness by carefully inspecting the mix. It should be dry, fluffy and well balanced, not limp.

At the Monterey Farmer's Market

Yellowing product is old and unsuitable. It's advisable to try to maintain the cold chain (allow the temperature to warm as little as possible). Every effort has been made to bring the product as cold and fresh as possible. Shop early!"

Secondary Products- Fall and winter products may include cabbage, kale, turnips, radishes, rapini, collards, mustard greens, napa, bok-choy, dandelion greens, hard squash, leeks, chard, radicchio, frisee, garlic and fennel. "We tend to offer unusual or hard-to-find varieties of these items, when possible." Spring and summer products include five varieties of summer squash, basil, seedless watermelons, specialty eggplant, sweet corn, fresh herbs, sweet and hot bell peppers, and specialty cucumbers. "Always look to see if products look fresh. Visual inspection is the key."

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