Iowa Public Television

 

Grape grower finds benefit in organic methods

posted on March 10, 2000


PROPONENTS OF IRRADIATION DO MAKE A GOOD CASE FOR THE SAFETY OF THE RARE BURGER. BUT FOR THE MOST PART, PROPONENTS OF NON-ORGANIC AGRICULTURE WHO COMPLAIN ABOUT ORGANIC CERTIFICATION DON'T DO MUCH TO SELL THEIR TECHNOLOGIES AND PRACTICES AS WHOLESOME.

THE FACT IS, ORGANIC PRODUCERS ARE SUCCEEDING NOT ONLY BECAUSE OF IMPLIED WHOLESOMENESS, BUT ALSO BECAUSE OF PERCEPTIBLE QUALITY. MOREOVER, MANY ARE PROFITABLE NOT ONLY BECAUSE OF THE ORGANIC PREMIUM THEY RECEIVE, BUT BECAUSE OF THEIR MARKETING ACUMEN. AND THEIR INFLUENCE IS BEING FELT WELL BEYOND THEIR SECTOR.

INDEED, AS DAVID MILLER EXPLAINS IN THIS PROFILE OF AN ORGANIC LEADER, MUCH OF THE PRODUCE AND MANY OF THE PRODUCTS CONSUMERS ENJOY TODAY ARE PRODUCED ORGANICALLY, BUT MARKETED CONVENTIONALLY.

NEAR RICH GROVE, CALIFORNIA, IN THE VINEYARDS OF "PAVICH FAMILY FARMS", THE WORLD'S LARGEST GROWER OF ORGANIC TABLE GRAPES, THE LATE SUMMER CROP IS BEING HARVESTED. STEPHEN PAVICH, ONE OF THE PARTNERS IN THE 46 YEAR-OLD FAMILY BUSINESS, IS LOOKING OVER THE CROP.

ONE OF THE TURNING POINTS THAT LED TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE "PAVICH FAMILY FARMS" LABEL, AND ITS CURRENT PROMINENCE IN THE ORGANICALLY GROWN FOODS INDUSTRY, WAS THE DAY IN 1971 WHEN STEPHEN WAS INVOLVED IN A LIFE-THREATENING PESTICIDE ACCIDENT.

STEPHEN PAVICH: "We were doing some spraying the very first year that I came home from college, and I'd had a mechanical problem in the spray rig. And I went down in the spray rig and tried to pull it out and I got real dizzy from the pesticides that were still left in the tanks. And so I was kind of pulled out of the tank and it was kind of this little light bulb that wet on. And I said to myself, there's got to be a better way, became rather religious at the time, too, because we were having such significant problems with pesticides that weren't working in the field that I was searching and looking for a new answer."

WITH VERY LITTLE CONVINCING THE PAVICH'S DECIDED TO TAKE THE ORGANIC PLUNGE. FORTY ACRES WERE GIVEN OVER TO COVER CROPS, BENEFICIAL BUGS, AND VARIOUS NATURAL SOIL AMENDMENTS LIKE LIME. THE GRAPES RECOVERED IN LESS THAN 60 DAYS. THE CROP HAD FIRMER FRUIT AND A HIGHER YIELD THAN THE FAMILY'S CONVENTIONAL ACREAGE.

THE SWITCH WAS ON. REJUVENATION OF THE SOIL BECAME THE NUMBER ONE CONCENTRATION. THE BELIEF IS IF THE SOIL IS IN GOOD CONDITION, EVERYTHING ELSE WILL FOLLOW.

STEPHEN PAVICH: "you know it really is important to understand it all goes back to here, and you can smell the dirt from here, you can get a little bit of that aroma, of the smell of the good earth, and that is really my forte. I'm not worried about eating my own dirt. I'm not worried about getting sick about getting a little dirt on my hands or, you know, licking my fingers, it's really amazing. "

THE PAVICH'S HAD BEEN THINKING ABOUT MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY METHODS OF GROWING GRAPES BUT STEPHEN'S ACCIDENT, COMBINED WITH THE RESULTS OF THE WORK DONE ON THE EXPERIMENTAL ACRES, GAVE THEM A PUSH.

STEPHEN PAVICH: "and we chronologically, put each farm under a microscope, basically, and took each one of these farms so that we understood that what we were doing...... So these good grapes are not by accident they come through a lot of hard work......This is a very science based operation."

WHEN THE PAVICH'S MADE THE COMMITMENT TO GROWING WITHOUT PETROCHEMICAL PESTICIDES INFORMATION SOURCES WERE FEW AND FAR BETWEEN. STEPHEN HAD TO RELY ON PAPERS PRINTED NEAR THE BEGINNING OF THIS CENTURY AND VARIOUS CONSULTANTS WHOSE IDEAS WERE NOT CONSIDERED TO BE MAINSTREAM. BUT THE FAMILY PERSISTED AND EVEN TODAY CONTINUE TO EXPERIMENT WITH VARIOUS COMBINATIONS OF SOIL ADDITIVES AND BENEFICIAL BUGS. PAVICH HAS EVEN ADOPTED THE LADYBUG AS ITS UNOFFICIAL MASCOT.

THE FAMILY'S ORGANICALLY GROWN TABLE GRAPE ACREAGE NOW BRUSHES THE 4000-ACRE MARK. AND THE PAVICH'S HAVE ALSO ESTABLISHED CONTRACTUAL AGREEMENTS WITH 75 GROWERS, WHO CONTROL ANOTHER 2000 ACRES OF ORGANIC FRUITS, NUTS, AND VEGETABLES. EVEN THE NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES HAS RISEN OVER THE PAST 28 YEARS WITH MORE THAN 1000 PEOPLE HANDLING PRODUCE AT THE PEAK OF HARVEST.

THE PAVICH LABEL IS FOUND ON MORE THAN 75 VARIETIES OF ORGANICALLY GROWN PRODUCE DISTRIBUTED THROUGH MORE THAN 100 GROCERY STORE CHAINS ACROSS THE U.S.. THE COMPANY HAS EVEN BRANCHED OUT INTO ORGANICALLY GROWN ORANGE JUICE.

THE PATRIARCH OF THE PAVICH FAMILY, STEPHEN SENIOR, DIED MORE THAN 10 YEARS AGO AND NEVER REALLY SAW THE HUGE GROWTH OF THE ORGANIC MARKET, BUT HIS DREAM LIVES. STEPHEN'S MOTHER HELEN AND HIS YOUNGER BROTHER TOM REMAIN PARTNERS IN THE FAMILY BUSINESS. WHILE STEPHEN SPENDS MOST OF HIS TIME OUT IN THE FIELD, TOM HANDLES THE BUSINESS ASPECTS OF THE OPERATION.

TOM PAVICH: "Oh yeah, We were criticized and called renegades and how dare you do this, because our success implied failure on the part of the conventional farming system with some people. It was a threat and still is... I mean here we are in 1999 and there are still many people threatened by our method of farming."

STEVE PAVICH: "My father demanded respect in the community so if he went along with it, it was kind of one of those respect things, where" yeah let the son fail and after he fails then he'll go back to the chemicals." And so they were waiting for me to fail for all these years."

THE PAVICH'S DISCOVERED EARLY ON THERE WAS MORE TO THE EQUATION THAN GROWING FRUITS AND VEGETABLES ORGANICALLY. THERE ALSO HAS TO BE SOME ATTENTION FOCUSED ON SALES.

TOM: "And we thought the buyers would be lined up around the block to come and buy this new product that we had. It didn't quite work out that way. .... it wasn't until the 80s when we started to see some natural food stores.... It just really started to move for us."

EVEN THOUGH TOTAL ANNUAL U.S. ORGANIC SALES IS OVER $4 BILLION DOLLARS THE MARKET ONLY AMOUNTS TO 2% OF TOTAL RETAIL SALES.

BY CAREFULLY ANTICIPATING SALES NEEDS PAVICH FAMILY FARMS HAS MANAGED 20% GROWTH PER YEAR OVER THE PAST THREE YEARS. THE PAVICH'S PROVEN ABILITY TO SELL ORGANIC PRODUCE HAS MADE THEM ONE OF THE COMPANIES ORGANIC GROWERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD SEEK OUT TO MARKET THEIR PRODUCTS. WHEN THE WHOLESALE PRICE FOR ORGANIC GRAPES BEGINS TO DROP THE PAVICH'S AVOID FLOODING THE ORGANIC MARKET BY SELLING THEIR CERTIFIED PRODUCT UNDER THEIR LATE FATHER'S CONVENTIONAL LABEL NORMANDIE.

TOM PAVICH: "now that the consumer can make the connection with what we are doing with the farm you know this has to be right. And then you look at it from a broader aspect and philosophically and say you know what we are doing is in harmony with nature. We're trying to put things in balance. Our farm doesn't pollute the ground water. Our farm enhances the health of the consumers that are consuming our product and our workers can work in an environment where they don't have to concern themselves with whether their job is safe or not, so all those things combined makes us feel good about what we are doing.

FOR MARKET TO MARKET, I'M DAVID MILLER

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