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JOE BOSKOVICH

Everything there is to know about green groceries, Joe Boskovich knows. He graduated with a masters in business from USC and describes himself as a businessman. But he’s really a farmer, just as his father and grandfather were before him.

The Boskovich family business began in 1915 with a small plot of land his Croatian immigrant grandfather farmed in the town of Lankershim (now North Hollywood). Today Joe, his brother, and cousins operate Boskovich Farms. It’s a family owned business and its big business with more than 5000 acres in Ventura County and 10,000 more in Arizona, Monterey County, and Mexico. They supply more than 13 million cartons of fruits and vegetables every year to customers that include Vons, Ralphs, Wal-Mart, and restaurant suppliers.

His land in Ventura, Joe says, is some of the most fertile farmland in the world. While there are plenty of other agricultural areas in California and the Southwest, Ventura County has the best climate for growing. Monterey County is too cold in the winter. Mexico, Arizona, and the San Juaquin Valley are too hot in the summer. “But this land,” Joe Boskovich stresses, “is as good as it gets.” The climate here is so perfect for growing that the same land can yield three different crops a year.

Joe is somewhat ambivalent about the new zoning initiatives in Ventura County, laws that prevent farmland from being gobbled up by urban sprawl. Farmers are conservative people. Most were dismayed with the new zoning laws. They felt that the laws stripped them of their private property rights. But on the other hand farmland in coastal valleys with mild climates – as exists in Oxnard and Ventura – is a limited resource that has been fast disappearing.

The most expensive aspect of farming is labor. Few of the more than forty crops that Boskovich grows can be harvested by machine. They have to be picked by hand. And today, there’s a labor shortage.

Boskovich emphasizes that his company pays a good wage, provides workers with health insurance and a 401K, and still labor is hard to find.

”We’re very dependent on immigrants to pick our crops,” he says, “because Americans just won’t do it. Even if the wages went up, Americans won’t do it. It’s too hard work.”

The United States,” Joe says proudly, “has the safest, cheapest, most plentiful food supply in the world.” But there’s no way, Joe insists, that we could have this abundant supply of food without the use of pesticides and herbicides.

“We’re in business to supply our customers every day of the year,” he says, “and in order to do that we can’t be wiped out by worms or flies or other things that attack our crops.”

He points out a dichotomy in the public’s attitude about their food. “They want it to be cheap, plentiful, and safe. Yet god forbid if they bite into an apple and bite into a worm. And if one of our customers finds a live insect in a head of lettuce, he’ll reject the whole load.” Many Americans may prefer their foods to be grown without pesticides but the reality is that without pesticides, they would have less of it, at more expensive prices, and in a quality not to their liking.

Joe Boskovich may say that farming is just another business. No different than making chips for computers or manufacturing gaskets. Just that he manufacturers vegetables. But there is no other business where an owner can walk out of his corporate office and just steps later walk across fields of plenty – the dirt beneath his feet his factory, the heavens above his plant manager.