Feb 24, 2012
California farm grows into giant

It was 1932 when friends Milo Ferini and Dominick Ardantz teamed up to run a small sugar beet farm near Guadalupe, Calif., unaware that they were setting the stage for an agricultural empire that would one day employ more than 600 full-time workers.

By 1936, their families had joined the Bonita Vegetable Co-op, which eventually became Bonita Packing Co. Sugar beets were replaced with celery, lettuce and other vegetables. A new produce company, Bonipak, was born in the Santa Maria Valley.

Eight decades later, the company is still connected to Milo Ferini and Dominick Ardantz, through second-generation owners Milo Ferini, Patrick Ferini and Henri Ardantz, along with third-generation owners Rob Ferini, Mitch Ardantz, Craig Reade, Tom Minetti and Alain Pincot.

“Both families began farming over 80 years ago,” Reade said. “Farming is our passion and for our families it is a way of life. It is what we do and it is who we are.”

The rich, fertile soil and mild climate of California’s central coast allows for longer growing seasons, helping Bonipak produce premium-quality produce throughout the year.

“Our climate is mild and allows us to grow cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage year round,” Reade said. “Santa Maria also allows us to transition directly our leaf and celery crops to our desert operations in Arizona.”

Bonipak’s crops include anise, bok choy, napa, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cilantro, green cabbage, green leaf, iceberg lettuce, red leaf, romaine, romaine hearts and spinach.

Each year, Bonipak grows, harvests, cools, processes and ships more than 15 million cartons of fresh vegetables to retailers, wholesalers and food service customers all over the world, Reade said.

Bonipak uses more than 400 miles of drip irrigation, which allows for precise water application and saves thousands of gallons of water every year, according to the farm’s website.

In 1999, the company became involved with the organic vegetable industry. Recognizing the growing market and having the resources to supply that market was the key. Today, Bonipak’s organic produce includes broccoli, cauliflower, celery and romaine, Reade said.

There were additional benefits to growing organics.
“What we learned through our organic program has allowed us to grow our conventional programs more sustainably, ” he said.

Rising costs are a challenge. Between fertilizer, electricity to run the pumps and fuel costs increasing significantly over the past few years, Bonipak has worked hard to maintain the same level of performance and service, according to Reade.

Maintaining a philosophy that began 80 years ago, Bonipak controls the entire production process, from growing to packing to processing to shipping. Its vertically integrated “seed to sale” approach is carried out by the entire Bonipak family.

“Our approach sets us apart,” Reade said. “It allows us to plan with our customers, providing consistent, high-quality produce year round. We can make changes and improvements faster and more efficiently because of our structure. Our philosophy is simple: Provide the best quality produce, control the entire process from seed to sale and strive to improve each and every day.”

Reade is optimistic about Bonipak’s future.

“We are currently in our third generation of farmers,” he said. “Each of us has children that are interested in the business and have the benefit of growing up in a farming community. Their future will allow us to continue for years to come.”

For more information, visit the company website.

By Keith Loria, VGN Correspondent

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