October Grower Spotlight of the Month - Eric Reiter - Ventura County Agricultural Education
Getting ahold of Eric Reiter is no easy task. It might be because Reiter Affiliated Companies (RAC) is the largest berry producer in the world. Ventura County’s gorgeous Mediterranean climate makes it a prime location to grow multiple varieties of berries, but they don’t grow on their own. To grow the thousands of pounds of berries that we all love to eat, a dynamic team of managers and farm workers are needed who work together in unison to ensure supply meets demand. RAC has locations in CA, OR, FL, Baja, Central Mexico, Portugal and Morocco, which includes 16 offices around the world. No doubt all these moving parts keep Eric busy.
Strawberries and raspberries were ranked one and three in the VC AG Commissioner’s 2014 Crop Report. RAC grows most of these berries and also grows fresh blueberries and blackberries, which I believe will be listed on the VC’s top crop report one day in the not too distant future. As consumers learn more about health and nutrition, they want to eat those foods that have a high nutritional quality index. Berries rate high on this list and are known as super foods. Farmers grow what consumers want to eat. Simple. Nutritional knowledge contributes to the agricultural industry’s growing trends.
I met Eric in the largest blueberry “patch” I have ever seen in Camarillo. These berry bushes could be considered 21st-Century berries because they are grown hydroponically to reduce water waste. Our local berry growers who grow using hydroponic technology monitor every drop of water to make sure none is wasted. Eric and I were standing inside a sea of rows of blueberry bushes. Coco fiber is the key growing medium and fills each container, which are placed on old substrate. These bushes are at an ideal height for harvesting and makes it easier to gather the small berries. It reminded me of picking blueberries at Hicks Orchard in upstate NY, the area where I’m from.
Eric is lean, full of energy and smart. He gave me the impression he is ready to tackle any challenge that presents itself. He just has that aura of determination. It is apparent he loves the company the Reiter family founded in the early 1900’s, and talked to me about the Reiter culture and how respecting their employees is very important to him and the company as a whole. He was glowing with pride as he told me 400 of their employees, family and friends participated in their recent Sembrando Salud 5k running race. Eric proudly explained, “Some employees had never run a 5k before in their lives. They came out because they wanted to be part of the company event.” Every person I meet in the Reiter and Driscoll’s families talks about the guiding principles of creating a culture of respect. It’s common sense in all working environments – respect your workforce and they will in turn feel appreciated and will try to do a good job.
“We respect our workers by providing a safe work environment and by respecting them as we do our own family members. Honesty is who we are, what we say is what we do. When making decisions within the company, fairness is our guideline. We take our workers into account as well as our company,” says Garland Reiter, CEO.
Reiter Affiliated Companies (RAC) is proud to be the largest fresh, multi-berry producer in the world and the leading supplier of fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries in all of North America. The Reiter family began farming in the San Francisco Bay Peninsula and by the turn of the century had migrated south into Watsonville and the Santa Clara Valley where Joseph “Ed” Reiter and R.O. “Dick” Driscoll began growing their own Sweetbriar strawberries variety. After World War II, they farmed under their respective companies of Reiter and Driscoll’s and began marketing strawberries under the Driscoll Strawberry Associates label with other family and associated suppliers.
At the heart of the success of this multi-generational farming company has been the ownership’s fervent belief in their fundamental values and guiding principles. Honesty, Fairness and Respect are framed along the corridors of every office, from the smallest ranch operation in remote locations to their corporate offices in Oxnard. These values have been integrated into every aspect of the company, defining a clear path for integrity to flow throughout the organization. From the humble fields by which their family legacy was born, to the people that represent the Reiter Affiliated Companies today, the successful partnership of two cousins led to a family legacy of farming spanning more than a century long, with geographies that exist today throughout the United States, Mexico, Europe and North Africa.
As the organizer of Ventura County Farm Day I am very proud that Reiter Affiliated Companies and Driscoll’s will be collaborating and participating on the tour this year for the first time. Their Santa Rosa Ranch location at 8585 Santa Rosa Road, Camarillo, CA will host an educational day on Saturday, Nov. 5th where visitors can learn about the genetics and research behind growing Driscoll’s delicious berries. Sample their Driscoll’s Berries while learning about their farmworker health and wellness initiative Sembrando Salud. RAC’s Sembrando Salud Program strives to improve health outcomes among the farm worker population by creating healthy ranch communities through an obesity and diabetes prevention and management pilot program in the US and Mexico.
Thank you Eric and your whole RAC Family for growing the berries we all love to eat and contribute to our health and wellness.