Home to rich soil, a temperate climate and an abundant water supply, California’s Santa Maria Valley produces a variety of crops throughout the year, generating a billion-dollar industry. Every year Santa Barbara County yields everything from strawberries and broccoli to wine grapes, avocados to celery, cauliflower to leaf lettuce and much more. At the forefront of the valley’s worldwide leadership in agriculture is Innovative Produce.
Since 2008, Innovative Produce has been one of the largest grower-packers in the region, delivering high quality produce that helps shape the future of the industry. “We take great pride in making it possible for our customers to enjoy the finest farm-fresh produce grown under the strictest food and employee safety standards with many of the most innovative growing practices in the world,” shares George J. Adam, president of Innovative Produce and fifth-generation farmer.
From generation to generation
While Innovative Produce was officially incorporated in 2008, George’s family has been farming the Santa Maria Valley for five generations. “Innovative Produce is the result of a long line of family farming,” reveals George. “My great-grandfather came over from Scotland and started farming in Santa Maria. The tradition continued with my father and uncle who started growing beans and broccoli after returning from the Korean War. I was the only child of my family to go into farming. I am excited about having my sons and several nephews interested in the industry.”
Today, Innovative Produce farms more than 1,200 acres in Santa Maria with 200 employees. “We’re a truly multicultural company,” says George. “We value employees who demonstrate qualities that span all people and places and we try to foster an atmosphere of open and honest learning with an emphasis on finding creative solutions to any problem we come across. We consider this creativity essential to our success.”
Innovative Produce mainly produces broccoli, cauliflower, iceberg lettuce, romaine and celery; however, George says the company is always looking for specialty products to add to the mix. “We have our main crops for cash flow but we have diversified into kale, Romaine Hearts and celery sticks in recent years,” he reveals. “Kale has been a huge success. In fact, we have upped our kale production 10 times. We also built a machine to process and produce celery sticks right in the field; it’s about adding value where we can.”
In the past decade, Innovative Produce has also grown its organic operations. “We see this sector of our organization as one with unbridled potential and as a company we are making considerable investments to further our knowledge and understanding of organic growing practices,” notes George.
Another family-run company, La Brea Ranch, boasts a small cow/calf operation. “We, my two brothers and I, currently have about 125 pairs, but it’s been a challenge with the recent drought,” shares George. “We try to keep as many head as possible, when it makes sense to do so, but it’s been more difficult lately with limited feed.”
Food safety first
Not only does Innovative Produce strive to add value from trusted packaging to up-and-coming products, the company also puts food safety first and foremost. “Our employees are serious about providing produce that exceeds the highest quality and safety standards,” ensures George. “It’s our goal to lead the agricultural industry into a safe, sustainable and healthy future.”
“There are a lot of food safety regulations in California,” adds George. “Because of that, we have to be better farmers. We try to go the extra mile in this respect, ensuring we have hygienic means of harvesting and production right down to managing adjacent areas where there might be animal impacts upon our crops. We’re always trying to educate ourselves because food safety is a huge component of our business.”
In addition to Innovative Produce, George and his wife, Debbie, also own and operate Faith Farming, a company dedicated to safe and efficient harvesting of the fruits and vegetables Innovative Produce grows. “It’s our goal, mission and maybe even obsession to maintain the highest food safety standards possible,” says Adam. “Our commitment has paid off in a recent audit by Primus Labs where we achieved a rating of Excellent to Superior, which we intend to keep.”
From the soil to the packing line, George says it’s all a balance. “Farming is like a decathlon,” he explains. “You’re managing people, how to treat the environment and food safety, continually advancing on all fronts. It’s about more than just being good at farming; our strength is our diversity. We’re strong in all aspects and we’re always improving.”
Furthermore, Debbie also serves on the local food-bank board and many other organizations. “Innovative Produce continues to extend its success to the community that’s made it possible,” George continues. “We donate where we can and try to facilitate education development in the community. We want to make people feel good about supporting our products.” Since 2008, Innovative Produce has kept ideas flowing, building a bright future for the industry by standing out as a leader in the Santa Maria Valley; George and Debbie are proud to lead the way.