January 2014 - Steve Barnard: A Man and His Mission - Ventura County Agricultural Education

January 2014:  When I think of Steve Barnard this proclamation comes to mind “I’m off to feed the world”.   That’s what he lives every day.  Many of us think on a much smaller scale, not Steve.  He’s looking through a bigger lens and the world is his oyster.  Steve Gill introduced me to Mr Barnard at Gill’s Onions Vanadium flow battery green ribbon cutting ceremony.   For some reason my filter wasn’t on that day and I bluntly stated as I shook his hand, “Why don’t you ever answer my emails”? Steve and his life wife Shelley smiled.  I later learned Steve appreciates a direct approach and tenacity because that’s how he conducts his own life.   One of Steve’s favorite mottos is “PLAY OFFENSE”.  Words to live by in the business world.

Steve’s story is awe inspiring – an American business dream come true.  He started Mission when he was 29 years old when the company he worked for didn’t see or didn’t care about the potential of the avocado market.  Steve saw a huge opportunity and went for it, no looking back and he struck green gold.   Steve was a man on a mission (pun intended). Now avocados are the 6th leading crop in the county and growing.   Not only does Mission dominate SoCal with operations from SLO County to San Diego – they have global operations in Mexico, Chile, New Zealand and Peru.  Steve said, “Mary you’ve got to diversify”.  Even though Steve’s heart remains true to his Ventura County roots, he realized California could not consistently keep up with the market’s ever growing demand.   Avocado crop seasons are unique in each hemisphere and country, there is now adequate overlap of fruit all year round.

Steve’s corner office has spectacular views of Ventura County.  A wall of photos is amassed of years gone by.  It captures many of Steve’s friends, business associates and fun he’s had along the way, including one photo with Ronald Reagan and another with Jack Simplot, the french fry king and Fortune Magazine’s Wildest Man in the West.   Sounds familiar.  Steve is a man that cherishes the good times and I dare say loves a good time.  Especially on the big ride with the Rancheros Vistadores.   Through the proverbial grapevine I’ve heard many interesting stories about this 83 year old boys ride in Santa Ynez Valley.  Every time I ask Steve about his experiences that one debaucherous week in May because I know he loves it so much, but he only replies, “Top secret Mary” and we both laugh.

As consumers learn more about the nutritional benefits of avocados the demand keeps increasing.  An avocado is the perfect fruit.  Higher in potassium than a banana, but much more delectable.  An avo a day keeps the doctor away.  I mean really you can put an avocado on anything and it’s a home run.

Steve Barnard is an iconic local business cowboy.  He works hard and plays hard. He’s legit and the real deal.  It’s never a dull moment when talking to him.  My fondest experience is when I approached several farmers in the county for help with the launch of a new Vet to Farm educational internship program with co-founder Marine Corps Veteran Lawrence Parkhill and Steve called me right away in support. He said, “Sign Mission up”! Not only did he agree on hosting internships, Mission has now hired four other US Veterans.   Thank you Steve for being such a great human and character in our county.  We are lucky to have you.   For more information visit –  Mission Produce  and the Veteran Farm Internship Program – Veteran Farmers of America