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
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
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.