Leo Overgaag

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"People need to remember that there's all kinds of negative things in the news - food safety issues, etc., but as a whole the US has one of the most abundant and safest food supplies in the world. We need to remember that."

Name: Leo Overgaag

Age: 55

Home Town: Born in Holland, moved to Carperia, CA at 8 years old

Currently Lives: Palm Desert, CA.

Farm/Business Name & Location: North Shore Living Herbs located in Thermal, CA


FAVORITES:

  • Music: Classic Rock, Van Halen is one of my favorites
  • Food: Mexican
  • Drinks: Grey Goose on the rocks
  • What do you wear the most when you work? Wrangler blue jeans
  • Favorite things to do AFTER work: I have a shop at home where I like to work on cars, build things, tinker around and work on welding
  • Mantra: If you can’t do something right the first time, then when you are going to have time to fix it?

LIFESTYLE QUESTIONS:

What's your relationship status?

Suzette and I are married and she’s my business partner, too.

Do you have children? Do they work with you? Ages?

We have three children; Ashley (26) is married with a baby girl living in Oklahoma and works part-time for North Shore helping recruit for the business, Brittney (24) is in a serious relationship and works full-time for North Shore as a Graphic Designer on the Marketing team and Tony (18) is a student in college interested in moving into the business.

Where is the farthest you have traveled to? Where would you like to go visit & why?

Holland – they are leading the greenhouse industry in technology so I like to go there to check out new technology and go back to my roots. I would love to go to San Padre Island in Texas. It has a tropical climate within the US with the same sandy beaches as the Caribbean islands.

CAREER QUESTIONS – AND PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE

How did you get into growing in general, and then herbs?

Well, I am a third generation grower. My grandfather grew up in Holland in the 1940’s. He had access to some of the first greenhouses ever invented. My dad work in the greenhouse industry in Holland as well before moving the family to Carperia, CA to start his own business. My brother took over that business and in 1987 Suzette and I move to the Coachella Valley to start on our own.

My dad helped us start the business. We borrowed money from him to get started. He lent us tractors and other equipment to get us going on a shoestring budget.

We originally were supposed to grow roses since we had grown flowers back in Carperia in the early 1980’s. When we moved the rose plants (in the greenhouse) were going to cost over $250 which was more than we had. So we decided to grow hot house cucumbers instead. We made good money with that decision and say rose prices continue to go down mainly because of imports from Mexico and Ecuador.

We never did get into roses and continued to grow all cucumbers until 1996 when we realized that cucumbers were starting to be imported as well. As we saw our returns begin to decline we knew we needed to look at other options and starting growing a small amount of herbs. We kept expanding into herbs and expanded our greenhouse space as well. Slowly we converted our cucumber greenhouses into herbs. The square feet for cucumbers kept shrinking until a few months back when we harvested our last cucumber and now we are 100% herbs.

How many acres are on the farm (in the greenhouse(s)) where you grow / work?

We have 7 acres of greenhouses in full production.

What was the HARDEST part getting started in this career?

For me, getting started wasn’t the hardest thing. I always enjoyed it and it’s always hard work that’s been great. When we grew, I did everything myself and led my team. Over time, we then hired a production guy, maintenance guy(s), and now the last 10 years I’ve been in the office. I’m just not an office type person though, and that’s been the biggest challenge. I've changed from being hands-on to being CEO, and now I'm filling the role in the office. Now with managing people versus working in the greenhouse itself, I am used to it. (chuckles)

What SURPRISED you about this career choice?

I don't get surprised too much. I take things as they come!

Tell us about a typical day for you – what time you start / what goes on typically / what time day ends for you …

Typically, I get up at 4:30/5am, and I work on emails for an hour or two, but also try to spend time on the treadmill when there's time. Then I have breakfast and coffee, and am at work, in the office, by 7:30am. I continue working, non-stop, until about 5 or 6 pm, and then I head home.

What makes you HAPPY in a day working?

I enjoy using my skills to design growing systems or anything to do with the facility, packing lines, or any kind of project. It's great being involved in designing systems and then watching the progress. Once it’s in action or production you get a sense of accomplishment.

What makes you FRUSTRATED?

Not getting out of the offices and to the facility. I need to walk through it, talk to people, see what is going on. I like to do this on a daily basis, but it doesn’t happen as often as I want. I like to go, several times a day, to talk to the supervisors and check in on new projects. But many times, it will be very hectic in my responsibilities, and I can’t get there for a few days.

When is the growing season?

All year long! Our business is steady, year-round, except for Thanksgiving which is our busiest time of year. We do triple our everyday business at Thanksgiving. Christmas is our second peak at about double our normal business then a bump around Easter. Thanksgiving gets pretty intense!

What do you think a big MISCONCEPTION is about growing?

A big misconception is that farmers are just hosing down plants with pesticides all the time, and everyone is freaked out about this. Farmers are people, too, and they think about health, chemicals, and the environment. Farming isn’t making thousands per acre, it’s making $10 per acre, and chemicals cost a lot of money. Farmers try very hard to use less chemicals, and especially low toxicity chemicals, as they want to preserve the beneficial insects, because insects are used in farming. Farmers don’t want to harm them or anything.

Everyone is into organic, which is good, but I don’t necessarily believe the difference between organic and conventional is nearly quite as huge as people think it is.

Growing herbs - People don't realize how hard it is to grow herbs. They are a challenging crop to grow hydroponically. '

Any advice to other growers or “wanna-be” growers?

You have to have a lot of passion – and be willing to work hard with a lot of hours. Students should take some business classes. It's important to understand how businesses work. If I had to do it over, I would have taken some business and public speaking classes. If you manage people, you need to be able to communicate effectively. My wife Suzette is CFO and does the business part. I do production and the facility. We also have a Controller, Director of Sales, Director of Marketing, Human Resources and Accounting with teams of their own to support the business.

Any lessons learned through working as a grower?

I like the saying that you have two ears and one mouth, use them accordingly. It’s important to listen to people and what they have to say. I have learned that you have to be very careful because whatever you say, can accidentally come off the wrong way.

Anything to say to consumers i.e. people who aren’t into farming or growing?

People need to remember that there’s all kinds of negative things in the news – food safety issues, etc., but as a whole, the US has one of the most abundant and safest food supplies in the world. We need to remember that.

People need to remember that there’s all kinds of negative things in the news – food safety issues, etc., but as a whole, the US has one of the most abundant and safest food supplies in the world. We need to remember that.

What concerns you the most about the future of your industry?

I don't think that enough young people are getting into it (Agriculture). However, for the greenhouse industry, it’s a huge capital investment to get into it, and that’s concerning. The greenhouse companies are becoming big corporations so it’s getting tougher to get into it. I know in my business to find growers or assistant growers or production people is very challenging.

Where do you think you'll be in 5 or 10 years?

My goal is to strengthen my team, get some more people. One of those would be, in four to five years, to have a General Manager or President, something like that that. This person could do some of my job so I could work a little less and do some more things with Suzette. We have new products in the pipeline and we’ll be putting more effort into organic growing. I think our growth will be very steady and growing, so we think it’s going to be twice the size within the next five years. So, we’re looking forward to the next five to ten years, and keeping it going - and growing - strong!



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