On March 29, the Kiwanis Club of Tulare County will recognize Doug Mederos as the 57th Farmer of the Year.Mederos – a diversified farmer and owner of Doug Les Farms in Tulare County – grows almonds, pistachios, cotton, silage corn and black-eyed peas. Mederos farms 600 acres and manages another 300 acres for his brother.
Mederos told California Ag Today the award caught him by surprise. “It is pretty humbling,” he said, “especially when you see the list of growers they picked [in prior years], and you always wonder, ‘Do I fit in this list or not?’”
Mederos’ family has been farming for several generations. “My grandfather came over in 1920 and started a dairy, P & M Farms, with his brother. When my father got out of the military, he joined the partnership with my grandfather and my uncle and my uncle’s son, Larry Pires.
“Along the way, my two brothers and my cousin’s sister, Loretta, all worked at the farm. My cousin Larry and I eventually became partners in the Pires and Mederos Dairy operation after we graduated from college.
The partners decided to move the dairy out of California and chose South Dakota. Mederos explained, “I stayed here farming in California, and I’ve been pretty fortunate over the years. We’ve had good years and bad years, but the majority of them have been good. Hopefully continuing on so that at some point I get to retire.”
Mederos’ children may continue their family’s legacy of farming in the Central Valley. “Probably my son or somebody will take over,” Mederos said. “He’s going to go off to Fresno State and to major in Ag business, so hopefully in a few years, he’ll be back here. Who knows, maybe it will be my daughter who comes around and ends up running the farm. You never know.”
Nisei Farmers League and African American Farmers of California Discuss Disastrous AB 1066 in Sacramento Today
EDITOR’S NOTE: SEE TEDX TALK VIDEO BELOW OF WILL SCOTT, JR., PRESIDENT OF AFRICAN AMERICAN FARMERS OF CALIFORNIA.
TODAY,Manuel Cunha Jr., president of the Nisei Farmers League and Will Scott, Jr., president of the African American Farmers of Californiaare meeting in Sacramento with members of the California Assembly to explain the disastrous consequences of AB 1066, referred to as Agricultural workers: wages, hours, and working conditions, on small and minority farmers.
The effects of this legislation, particularly the Phase-In Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016, will be detrimental not only to the farmworker who counts on the extra hours, but to the farmer who, with the increasing costs of regulations and the lack of water, will be forced to cut back on crops and their workforce, according to their joint press release.
“The small and minority farmer will be adversely affected by this ill-conceived legislation,” said Manuel Cunha Jr. “The small farmer works hand in hand with their workforce in the fields and [is] in a better position —with direct input from the workers—to determine schedules rather than politicians in Sacramento looking for a soundbite,” he explained. “Without meeting with our small and minority farmers and farmworkers, these politicians pass legislation that will cost our workforce money, our farmers crops, and the residents of California the fresh fruits and vegetables they enjoy everyday.”
Both Manuel Cunha Jr. and Will Scott believe the Legislators need to consider the small and minority farmers when casting their votes. “We are confident that after we meet with the Assembly members,” said Will Scott, Jr., they will understand how harmful this legislation is to our farmers and farmworkers. It is our hope that by educating the members, they will understand the importance of this bill and vote No on AB 1066.”
The League continues to inform grower members about ever changing regulations and policies providing legal assistance for labor and workplace related issues. Our leadership and staff maintains a close working relationship with local, state and federal agencies and legislators to assure grower interests are adequately understood and defended.
The NFL also collaborates with other grower and agricultural organizations in both California and other states to help provide a powerful, unified voice for the agricultural community.
Grower members are kept informed through meetings, seminars, newsletters and special bulletins.
Strength, clear focus and growers looking out for growers and farm workers… that is what the Nisei Farmers League is all about.
The Fresno-based African American Farmers of California organization has doubled its membership since it opened a 16-acre demonstration farm in Fresno County, which serves as a testing area where new farmers can get hands-on experience growing a variety of produce.
One of Scott Family Farms primary goals is to reintroduce Southern specialty crops, part of the traditional African American diet, into black communities, to help stop the obesity and diabetes epidemics. Crops include: black-eyed peas, crowder peas, purple hull peas, field peas, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard, corn, tomatoes, okra and sweet potatoes.
“The nutritional value of this food was passed down the generations,” said Will Scott, Jr. “It helped build our immune system; kept us healthy and strong. We hope to pass it on to sustain the next generation.”
Tasteful Selections Opens Cal Green Potato Facility in Arvin, CA
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Associate Editor
Bob Bender, a partner with CSS Farms, in Watertown, South Dakota, came out to Kern County several years ago to grow many different crops including chip potatoes, garlic, onions and bell peppers, as well as black-eyed peas. “We were looking for an opportunity in California to diversify our company so that we were not so dependent on the chip potato income.”
Bender said he was always looking for crops in which he could diversify, and in 2007, he had the opportunity to grow some baby, bite-sized potatoes for a Canadian company. “This worked out well for a few years, and then we decided in 2009 to pack the baby potatoes under our own CSS Farms label,” Bender said.
“That business started taking off a lot bigger than we expected, and in 2010, we saw that the business was growing to be too much for us to handle. We needed some marketing help because we did not know much about it,” said Bender. “Plus, we were packing everything in 50-pound cartons, and we knew there would have to be more margin to the product if we sold directly to retail.
“That’s when we teamed up with the Wysocki family, owners of the Bancroft, Wisconsin-based RPE Company and experts in packing and marketing,” said Bender. “The marketing took off, and they built our first packing shed in a leased facility in Bakersfield. They sold product in smaller mesh bags for the consumer retail market under the Tasteful Selection brand,” noted Bender, who is now president and general manager of Tasteful Selections.”
Fast forward to March. 18, 2015 when CSS, along with RPE, and Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based Plover River Farms Alliance, Inc. partnered together and opened a new, stainless steel, 200,000 square foot facility in Arvin, near Bakersfield—all dedicated to Tasteful Selections specialty potatoes.
The expansion increases Tasteful Selections’ production capacity from eight to 12 packaging lines, doubles the potato washing capacity and adds more shipping docks and improved refrigeration and storage to meet the company’s double digit growth (over the past five years), leading the specialty potato category.
In all, the company sells eight flavors of potatoes in one-, two- or three-bite sizes, plus offers a medley of flavors in each bite size. The potatoes have unique flavors, creamy textures and tender skins. The products are pre-washed, so consumers do not have to clean or peel the product. And the small sizes equate to faster cooking times.
“Fifty percent of our team is marketing, so we’re not just growing and packing the potatoes. RPE handles all of our marketing and sales, which has been so instrumental in our growth,” said Bender, who now oversees the day-to-day operations in California. RPE has been a tremendous asset to Tasteful Selections; the fact that we are in all fifty states, in 52 percent of all grocery stores, with growth in every store, says a lot about RPE,” Bender noted.
The fact that the facility was built with all stainless steel components is an invaluable addition to our operations and food safety protocols. The facility’s design honors Cal Green Certification Standards. The Cal Green Certification ensures that we are maximizing our efficiency while reducing our environmental impact. Not only does this benefit us, it also helps the surrounding communities in promoting water savings, environmental responsibility, cost effectiveness and a healthier place to live and work for its currently 257 employees.
Milt Carter is CEO and President of CSS Farms, which grows all the potatoes for Tasteful Selections. “We are co-owner of the company, along with RPE, and the grand opening of our facility is a big day for us as we continue our journey to bring unique potatoes to the potato category and to the table,” said Carter.
“We particularly like the qualities of our baby potatoes, including unique flavors and better taste than the average potato. The uniform sizes we pack allow for uniform cooking times, making cooking easier for the consumer. And the growth we have seen reflects that consumers really like them.”
“When we started Tasteful Selections in 2010, we knew we had something amazing, and even we were surprised by the success that we had,” said Russell Wysocki, President and CEO of RPE. “The opening of this new plant shows that we are consistently investing in our future in specialty potatoes,” he said.
“The new plant will allow us to bring in new product lines, do a better job in precise-sizing, and maintain our high quality standard,” noted Wysocki. “On the farm, Bob and Milt bring us five separate crops a year; we have the ability to deliver the freshest potatoes with the best quality to our customers throughout the country and throughout the season.”
“The one-, two- or three-bite Tasteful Sections potatoes in the one pound or 1.5 pound bag are very popular with consumers.” said Wysocki. “It use to be that you would sell a lot of potatoes in a 10-pound bag, but that’s getting a lot harder to do. However, this product offers consumers a package from which they can get multiple meals, without taking five weeks to consume and perhaps resorting to the garbage can to get rid of them.”
“The baby potatoes are immature potatoes, before they grow bigger, but they still contain all the nutrients found in the larger potatoes,” said Wysocki.
Carter explained, “Our signature flavor Honey Gold baby potatoes are proprietary to Tasteful Selections, and they have a very unique flavor. A high percentage of people the taste distinctive in taste tests, and most like it very much.”
“It’s a great product,” noted Wysocki. “We basically took product that was being discarded in the market 10 years ago. We saw the quality of what was culled, and we felt it was something significant we could bring to the marketplace. So we considered the possibility, then brought it to market, and we have had phenomenal growth,” he said.