The cover story of the October issue of American Vegetable Grower focused on one of AVG’s Top 100 Growers, Ocean Mist Farms of Castroville, CA. Here’s more on the company, which prides itself on paying attention to the smallest detail.
Their headquarters itself is an eye-opener. Entering the 100,000-square-foot office building, you step into a foyer with a ceiling a full two stories above. The airy room is replete with huge wooden beams. “It’s impressive,” says Roberta Cook, a University of California-Davis economist who is a member of the company’s board of directors.
But you don’t have to be a board member to get a first-class welcome at Ocean Mist, says Cook. “You should see the truckers’ waiting room facility. It’s really attractive, has very nice chairs and really good food,” she says. “I’ve heard truckers comment on it.”
It’s artichokes that for which Ocean Mist is best known, at least nationally. It’s not surprising, as few growers dominate a particular vegetable like Ocean Mist, which produces fully three-quarters of U.S. artichokes. It’s the company’s second-biggest crop next to lettuce, with about 5,000 acres of “chokes,” as most people around Castroville – which as might be expected is the nation’s artichoke capital – call them.
But just because they dominate the artichoke deal, Ocean Mist doesn’t rest on its laurels, says the company’s vice president of production, Troy Boutonnet. As they do with other vegetables, they’re constantly on the lookout for new varieties with better taste, shelf-life, and production-friendly characteristics. “We evaluate over 700 artichoke varieties each year,” says Boutonnet. “We are the artichoke experts.”
Drip irrigation is what Ocean Mist might be just as well-known for in the Salinas Valley. While other growers in the valley might employ drip irrigation, perhaps no one else is as aggressive about it as Ocean Mist, as they are quick to adopt new technology as soon as it’s introduced. Also, they were among the first, just five years ago, to try drip germination.
Few growers use drip germination because of the logistics – the drip tape must all be injected prior to planting – and the expense. It’s more time consuming, and time, of course, equals money. “But it pays off in consistency, uniformity and better germination rates,” says Boutonnet, who notes that young plants get just the right amount of water and nutrients in the root zone. “And best of all, we use less water and fertilizer.”
Besides three California locations, Ocean Mist began farming in Mexico about a dozen years ago. Boutonnet, who got his start in farming as a youngster working side-by-side Hispanic workers – he’s fluent in Spanish – says he loves the people most of all. “They’re genuine, very hard workers, and very honest,” he says.
Another plus is that Boutonnet, a fourth-generation farmer, is a throw-back of sorts, and Mexico allows him to step into something of a time machine. For example, if there’s a insect infestation, you can’t call a custom applicator to spray a pesticide like you can in the U.S. “You must do more on your own. It’s more innovative farming because you have to maximize your resources,” he says. “It gives you a great feeling when you can produce a great crop in such an area. It’s very satisfying.”