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February 2017 WG Insider: Joe Pezzini, CEO of Ocean Mist Farms

Posted on February 22, 2017 14:42 PM by WGCIT

The Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology welcomed another interesting produce leader for February’s WG Insider resident presentation. On February 21, 2017, Joe Pezzini, CEO of Ocean Mist Farms, spoke to eighteen resident startups about Food Safety, the LGMA, and the direction of the agricultural industry. WG Insider is a resident program featuring a key member within the Western Growers Association.

Ocean Mist Farms is a 93 year old Grower/Packer/Shipper, known for growing artichokes. Based in Castroville, California, the Artichoke Capital of the World, Ocean Mist recently campaigned for the state of California to name Artichokes one of the state vegetables. While most known for growing the Italian thistle, artichokes only make up 15% of their product portfolio, and they grow quite a few leafy greens for the US, Mexico, and Canada markets.

Joe Pezzini was the President of the Grower-Shipper Association, a volunteer position, when “the E. coli outbreak” hit in 2006. Over the course of several months, the FDA located E. coli 0157:H7 as the cause of 205 illnesses in 26 states, 3 confirmed deaths, and over $100m in crop loss. Consumer confidence suffered with news segments, day after day, talking about the dangers of eating spinach and other leafy greens. Prior to the outbreak, the average American ate two pounds of spinach annually. Despite short-term industry action plans, grocers, consumers, and restaurants were told to throw away all of their spinach and quarantine bagged spinach. Sales plummeted in fresh leafy green categories, and growers stopped farming fields of juvenile product because they could not sell their commodities, and they could not afford to incur extra growing costs.

In 2007, Joe Pezzini and a group of industry leaders, that included Hank Giclas of the Western Growers Association, worked together to develop the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA). The LGMA website states that “the program’s goal is to assure safe leafy greens and confidence in our food safety programs.” It took nearly a year to put the full program in place, and it is worth noting that the intense food safety guidelines were developed as a marketing method to gain back consumer confidence in the agricultural industry. The culmination of the LGMA program and its implementation illustrates how closely related our industry truly is. After speaking with Pezzini, resident startups left WG Insider with one common understanding: we need fellow farmers to do well, we need everyone to grow product safely, and we need our consumers to trust that we are all following LGMA standards.