Desert Farms LLC
The benefits of asparagus have been recorded as far back as the second century, when a Greek physician first noted its health-boosting properties. Originally praised as both a diuretic and aphrodisiac, modern science has borne out some of those claims and added a few new ones on as well: the vegetable has high antioxidant content, is rich with fiber, folate and vitamins A, C, E and K, and is shown to contain high levels of the amino acid asparagine — a natural diuretic.
Since 2013, Desert Farms has been growing, packing and distributing top-quality, fresh produce to customers around the world. A grower-owned company, Desert Farms specializes in the production of fresh, green asparagus, operating two farms in Mexico with more than 3,700 acres of growing capacity.
Desert Farms was founded in 2013 by Gonzalo Viveros Arévalo, an agriculture industry veteran with more than 50 years’ experience. Arevalo started his career working with his father as pioneers in asparagus, before starting Desert Farms parent company Horticola del Desierto.
From its headquarters in El Centro, California, Desert Farms distributes fresh asparagus to customers around the globe utilizing a cold-chain system that remains unbroken from the time products are first harvested to the moment they end up in a shopping cart.
A worldwide presence
This process begins in Desert Farms’ fields in the Sonora region of Mexico. These drip-irrigated fields use water from the company’s own aquifer water from a series of private wells, ensuring that Desert Farms is never at the whim of fluctuating water prices and availability.
Located in a dry, hot desert climate, the company’s 15 Mexican farms represent the ideal growing conditions for high-quality asparagus. “We have a good dormancy phase with the winter here. Sometimes it’s a little hot, but we have a really good crop yield,” says Bram Hulshoff, Desert Farms CEO.
Once harvested, Desert Farms’ products are washed, cleaned, sorted, trimmed and packed at one of the company’s two packing plants, both located in Caborca, Mexico. With farming and packing operations located right on the U.S.-Mexico border, the company has easy access to the lucrative U.S. market. “We can almost say it’s locally grown, because the product doesn’t have to travel that much,” says Hulshoff.
After being loaded onto temperature-controlled trucks, the bounty of Desert Farms is transported to the U.S. for distribution both domestically and internationally, with shipments routed through Los Angeles International Airport for global distribution. While the company distributes to customers around the world, its products are particularly popular in North America, Asia and Western Europe.
“A majority of our product stays in the U.S. and Canada, but we do ship to other markets as well and do a lot of business in Spain, Holland and the U.K.,” Hulshoff says. “It’s more popular in the U.S. than in Europe, where it’s more of a specialty item, but there is a strong demand.”
Having served at the helm of Desert Farms since its inception in 2013, Hulshoff traces his time in the industry back to the mid-2000s when he began working with Asparagus in Peru.
Taking control of the future
Despite its size and dominance in the market, Desert Farms is faced with many of the same challenges as other producers in the area. A prolonged period of dry weather had led to a widespread drought in much of the Southwest, with farmers responding in kind.
“We don’t have the same drought issues as in California, but we like to prevent using too much water,” he says. “We use a minimum of water consumption but it is still difficult to get more water rights and expansion at this point in time,” says Hulshoff.
Not content to wait around for Mother Nature or a government relief agency to step in, the company has been proactive in its approach to the crisis. In 2015 Desert Farms built a wastewater treatment facility, giving it another tool to help fight against the endless drought. “We can recycle our own water now, making us more sustainable, giving us more control and lowering our overall water usage,” he says.
The wastewater treatment facility produces fresh, nonpotable water, saving Desert Farms an estimated 100,000 liters of water a day and reducing its consumption by half.
The wastewater treatment facility is not the only recent addition at Desert Farms aimed at helping to reduce utility costs and conserve natural resources. In 2012 the company installed solar panels on the Mexican packing facility and the brawley cooled warehouse is also equipped with a large solar project reducing the electricity usage with 40 percent. “We really want to be better for the environment,” Hulshoff says.
An industry leader in certification
While Hulshoff has confidence in the superior quality and cleanliness of every bundle of asparagus sold by Desert Farms, the CEO says that industry-standard certifications are an important tool in helping customers achieve that same level of confidence and showcasing the company’s status as a socially responsible organization.
These certifications include Global Good Agricultural Practices (Global G.A.P.), Supplier Ethical Data Exchange Database (SEDEX) and recognition from the Mexican Center for Philanthropy, which recognized Desert Farms with its Empresa Socialmente Responsible award as an organization committed to socially responsible management.
“We think that’s an important certification. It’s not mandatory for a majority of our customers, but we feel it’s important to treat our employees the right way,” Hulshoff says.
As an organization that frequently crosses the Mexico-U.S. border, Desert Farms also holds Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) certification and has been recognized for child-free labor practices. “We’re one of the only Mexican companies fully certified with a child-free labor certification,” Hulshoff says.
Just three years in, Desert Farms has already made a name for itself among asparagus producers. As the company looks to the future, Hulshoff would like to see Desert Farms grow and diversify its business.
“We will try to expand our operations and possible grow other produce, but right now we’re focused on growing quality asparagus,” he says. In the immediate future, Hulshoff would like to extend the asparagus growing season.
“We’ll probably extend the harvest with one or two months extra production in order to offer better service to our customers,” he says.
As the team at Desert Farms prepares for the future with an expanded production schedule, the company is poised for growth as an up-and-coming producer of fresh, green asparagus.