Carriere Family Farms: An Agricultural Tradition
The Carriere family tradition began when Albini Carriere moved to Northern California from Canada in 1890; and the Carriere family has been cultivating Californian soil for 12 decades since. Initially, Albini worked locally as a ranch hand and eventually settled a small farm of his own. Albini’s youngest son, Wilfred, followed in his father’s footsteps. After working alongside Albini, Wilfred established a farm of his own as well. Wilfred acquired an additional 200 acres in the ’30s, and began to farm rice. The operation expanded over the years, and so did the family tradition as Wilfred’s sons, Herb and Dick, joined the family business after attending college.
Driven by passion, Herb continued to grow the farm by purchasing a neighbor’s walnut orchard in 1963. Passion must run through the Carriere blood, as Dick soon returned to help expand the rice operation while Herb focused on walnuts. When Wilfred retired, Herb and Dick formed Carriere Brothers and took over the farming operation. The brothers became very active in the rice and walnut industries, serving on several agricultural boards. Another ranch was purchased in 1985 with the partnership of Spanish investors to form Borges of California Inc. The expansion opened up the business for continued growth and has served to create opportunities for other family members to join as well.
Carriere Family Farms (CFF) has grown into a broad operation, growing rice, walnuts, olives and almonds. The company employs 75 full-time employees, including 11 members of the Carriere family. The tradition is still alive as Bill Carriere, Herb’s son and the current president of CFF, says this generation has established a long-term plan of sustained growth to carry the family legacy through to future generations.
Transitioning through several generations has allowed CFF to become much more than a farming operation. The operation expanded in 2000 to integrate both walnut processing and sales to the team’s offerings. “Once you get a certain size, you need to vertically integrate a little bit,” says Bill. “In the ’70s and ’80s there was a lot of hand sorting. Today the processing division is expedited through the use of lasers and cameras.” Aside from product produced by CFF’s farm, the company processes and markets crops from an average of 85 neighboring growers.
And the wholesale end of the business continues to grow today. “We sell domestically and we currently export to over 25 countries,” elaborates Bill. All of the Carriere and Borges products are shipped using contract transporters, as the company uses local haulers for short distances and nationwide transporters for longer hauls, including rail. According to Bill, part of the growing footprint has to do with technology his predecessors didn’t have access to. In addition to high-tech sorting and packaging, the Internet has made it easier for smaller operations to put products into the chain of commerce. “Nowadays it’s a lot easier to travel, market and meet people, and that face time is still important,” says Bill. “Email and the Internet help facilitate the final sales.”
However, it has not always been easy. Bill has worked hard to expand the market for CFF and other growers. According to Bill, walnut consumption is on the rise with the help of a series of grower- and industry-supported studies examining the health benefits of walnuts. “We’re gaining recognition worldwide,” says Bill. “The supply is growing, but the demand is growing equally as fast.” The growth is evident, as one of CFF’s largest markets is China. Although the country grows a significant amount of walnuts, Bill says the demand is overwhelming and consumers depend on imports from American growers like CFF.
To boot, the company employs a philosophy of support that is extended to its employees, its suppliers and the industry as a whole. CFF offers healthcare for all employees, as well as retirement benefits. “We’re investing in the future,” explains Bill. “We’re helping them to help us grow, and it pays off.” Additionally, the Carriere family continues to participate as members of agricultural boards, and CFF regularly invests in research and lobbying to support the industry.
Bill and the team back up these efforts through assuring quality in all of the products that run through the operation. CFF uses a third-party inspection service to ensure everything exceeds top Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture standards, including the family farm’s products and those sent in for processing by the network of growers the company serves. Bill says that while regulations can be challenging, each is important to the success of his business. “It’s all part of long-term sustainability,” explains Bill. “We want somebody checking and making sure we’re doing it right.
“The last thing we want is to have a food safety issue,” continues Bill. “We’ve been lucky to really not experience a lot of issues in the walnut industry.” No food safety issues have been reported involving any of CFF’s products, and, as Bill explains, “In any food industry, food safety is our number one priority.” Bill gives some credit to his products for natural quality control. “Walnuts are unique in that they have natural defenses,” explains Bill. “The outer shell helps to prevent contamination, and then walnuts are washed, sorted and separated, prior to shipment to the customer.”
CFF has achieved successful growth through a business model that embraces a diplomatic family council system of decision making, rather than a broad board of unfamiliar directors. The unusual approach ensures that the farm is run in its best interest for the long term, and not in the interest of unrelated investors. The result is a tradition of loyal employees with a low turnover and a product unmatched in quality. The company is broadening horizons for small business and agriculture through organized stewardship. The team’s stewardship draws rewards to Carriere Family Farms, as well as to the land, surrounding neighbors and the industry as a whole.