Name: Peter Navarro
HOME TOWN: Watsonville, CA
CURRENT RESIDENCE: Here in Watsonville, CA’s Pajaro Valley
FARM NAME & LOCATION: Navarro Farms, Watsonville, CA
- Music: ‘80’s person – like ACDC to EAGLES to even LATIN music…. Mariachi music!
- Food: Steak, potatoes, veggies, love all of it …
- Drinks: Used to drink more soda, now I drink more water and for extra-curricular, I’m a wine person now. Used to like beers.
- Blue Jeans: Levi’s – 6 days out of the week
- Thing to do AFTER work: I’ve changed, as I’ve gotten older. I used to go running, jogging. Now the bones creak, so I like to do yard work and take it easy. Or go to the gym.
- Mantra: Do better than I’ve done yesterday. If there’s nothing I can do about a problem, then just forget about it. Don’t dwell on it.
Do you have children? Do they work on the farm with you?
One daughter, 19 years old. She’s a full-time student.
Where is the farthest you have traveled to? Where would you like to go?
Furthest is Mexico; I lived there for 9 years, as we grew strawberries there also. I’ve always been fascinated with history, so I’ve wanted to visit the ancient ruins of Italy, the coastal regions there. I’d like to go to Washington DC, to the Smithsonian and the museums.
What is your attitude about money?
For better for worse, it’s what we all live by, I guess. Try and be successful, not only for yourself but also for your family. To just live a comfortable life. Not to be extravagant, but to be able to wake up and know you’re going to be able to survive.
How did you get into farming?
My father and uncle started farming back in the early 60’s and we just grew up around it. It’s been our whole life basically. I knew I’d always be involved in agriculture, but at first I was getting more involved with the sales aspect of it, especially when in Mexico. When my Dad got ill, I came back to the farm here and basically started taking over the strawberry operation. I have been doing that ever since. That was full-time in 1997.
How many acres is the farm?
It fluctuates. Farms aren’t really big here in this particular valley. This year I have 103 acres of strawberries, and some years it could go higher or lower. That’s a little higher than the average farm size here near this valley.
What was the hardest part getting started?
Fortunately for me, the business was already up and running. The hardest part was realizing the full responsibility was now mine when my father passed away. Just learning and catching up with everything that had to do with the strawberry growing aspect itself. The industry was changing. There were new varieties, new methods to grow strawberries coming in. More regulatory issues coming in to the industry - they were hard to catch on to.
What surprised you about farming?
I remember my father telling me that when he started he’d be done with his paperwork in maybe 3 or 4 hours, and only one day a week. Then it was farming for the rest of the week. Now it’s changed to where a lot of times you're tied up in the office, and it's hard to come out to the field and just do the actual farming. You’re so tied up with the governmental issues you have to look at – food safety, worker safety, make sure you’re up to date. The regulations that we’re under – that’s where we see the biggest change. The industry has always been about having the best quality of products available, take care of your employees, but the regulations have brought on a whole other level. A lot of it is just paperwork.
Tell us about your day on the farm.
I’m usually up at 6am and have a big breakfast, then I'm out the door by 6:40 because my crews start at 7am. We’re out here before they start, then once they start we have three different “picking” crews. Talk to each foreman, supervisor of each crew about any issues they need brought up. I examine the fruit – see how it looks quality-wise, and then I take a drive throughout the fields and see the plants for myself and how they look. Then any paperwork that’s needed I take from the fields to the office. Then I’m at the office for at least an hour and half every day now and make calls, look at pending issues, and then I try to come back out to the fields before lunch again to see how the work crews are doing. How quality is going.
Since we’re also now getting ready for next season, I go to the other ranches to look at ground preparation to see if that’s on schedule, and if the ground is being worked up correctly or not. I talk to my main foreman and see how his schedule is. We kind of plan out the day or week, and that’s basically it! Sometimes you may be done with this part by 3 - 5 in the afternoon. I try to be around until the last box of strawberries is loaded up and sent to the cooler. And then I try to talk to my field supervisors again to see how the day went for each crew. Or we just call it a day and go home. I get home about 6:30.
What’s the process with Well-Pict?
I pick exclusively for them and been with them since 1980. Once the berries are picked from my farm, they’re loaded on the flatbed trucks, taken to the Well-Pict cooler, pre-cooled, and shipped that same night to their stores and their destinations.
What makes you happy in a day on the ranch?
When you see your crew working at a nice pace and you’ve grown a nice healthy berry, a good-looking strawberry, a nice healthy fruit. Fruit coming on, flowers coming on, and you feel like you’ve done a great job bringing plant to fruition!
What makes you frustrated? Well, it revolves around your crop. Sometimes you do have issues out here. For instance, for the last twelve days we’ve been having humid weather, so that can be more of a challenge to pick the right quality. Your crews slow down and you fall behind. Sometimes it’s too cold, too wet – it all can affect the crop. The price can fluctuate and sometimes you may only be breaking even, or even losing money, but you have to pick the fruit. You can’t wait for the price to go up and not pick the fruit.
Then, in California, we’ve had a labor shortage because you need workers to pick the crops. A lot of other farmers here have been short on labor, and they fall behind on the pick. It gets to the point where you can’t pick one of your sections anymore. You fall too behind and then you just have to disk it. It’s been a frustrating part for the last 3 years. And sometimes people just don’t show up. That’s frustrating also.
When is the season?
The season starts by mid-late April, weather permitting, and we can go to end of October, November, again weather permitting. We plant by first week of November and have all winter for the berries to grow - that’s our rainy season. So the plant is getting the moisture it needs, then the cold nights help the plants get vigor. We have November, December, January, February, and March for the plants to grow. If you’re in a warmer section, then the berries come a little sooner. If in a cooler section it comes out later.
Any lessons learned on the farm?
This can be rewarding when you put something into the ground and you see it grow, produce. You know you’re supplying a product and something for people to eat. It’s healthy for them. That’s rewarding knowing you’re doing that. Also, it’s difficult being at the mercy of nature, so you learn to appreciate what you do have. You can have a decent living, or you can also go straight down, too. And then you’re done. So you learn to appreciate what you do have.
What do you think a big misconcemption is about farming or farmers?
I think the biggest one is that we’re out to just raise the ground, come in, and use it and abuse it and see what we can get off it – and then we’re gone! That’s 100% to the contrary. This is where we make our living from, if anything I consider myself a STEWARD of the ground. We try to take care of it the best we can. Not just the strawberry farmer, but all of us do the best we can to produce a safe product for everyone. With other fruits and veggies too. We take pride in what we do and feel that we do the best job in the world in producing strawberries. California is the leader. We’re certainly not out to just come in and get what we can. We eat from here, too. We do the best we can to deliver a safe, clean product and hope the public realizes that what they have in this country is probably the safest product in the world. With the regulations that we have and so many more, it is getting harder and harder to farm. And if agriculture is eventually driven out of the country because of difficulty to farm, no telling what we’d be getting outside of our borders. If we had to throw in the towel, would the folks in the grocery stores realize where their food is coming from? And how?
Any advice to other farmers/ranchers?
Just have an internal, eternal patience to be in this business. Perseverance. Just try and roll with whatever comes your way, what else can we do.
Anything to say to people who aren’t farmers?
That we are doing the absolute best we can – day in and day out, year in and year out. We do our very best to deliver a clean, healthy product. That’s always been our intention, and it always will be.
What concerns you the most about the future of farming?
That it will be regulated to death.
Where do you think you'll be in 5 or 10 years?
Unless I win the lottery I’ll hopefully still be here farming.