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Rousseau Farming Company: Family Farming Fueling the Community
Rousseau Farming Company (Rousseau) is invested in the past, present and future of the Phoenix area, of which the Rousseau and Pendergast families have called home for over 121 years. The produce grower is family-owned and -operated, supplying the region with agricultural products and fresh fruits and vegetables since 1892. Rousseau works closely with marketers, Pacific International Marketing and Timco Worldwide to distribute products to local grocers that are familiar and close to home.
The first family member to plant roots in Phoenix was Charles Pendergast, who came to the area working with a grain harvesting crew in 1878. Charles acquired several thousand acres of farmland and began growing grain and hay in western Phoenix. Later, in 1892, L.D. Rousseau came to the area in a covered wagon. Today, their grandson, Will Rousseau, is proud to be the fourth generation carrying on the pioneer spirit in the Salt River Valley.
In 1986 Will, current owner and CEO of Rousseau, decided to experiment with carrots. “Will was the first family member to expand the business into vegetable crops,” explains Charlie Montgomery, COO of Rousseau. “His idea took off. We now grow approximately 10,000 acres, most of which are in fresh vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, carrots, dry onions, watermelons and numerous other commodities, conventional and organic.”
Years of hard work has allowed the company to grow significantly, expanding into Scottsdale, Ariz., and Phoenix’s West Valley to compliment Rousseau’s home base in Tolleson, Ariz. Rousseau now employs over 750 seasonal workers and has the ability to service nationwide retailers; however, the company mainly focuses on the local region.
“We’re located in the Salt River Valley,” details Charlie. “Our location is really part of our niche. We’re proud to be one of the largest regional produce suppliers.”
Farm to Fork
Rousseau has worked to earn the respect and trust of many local retailers over the years. Charlie admits the company wouldn’t be where it is today without the support of area businesses. “It’s nice to have these relationships to rely on, it really goes both ways,” Charlie says. “We’re right here to get produce out the door and on shelves quickly. If one of our customers needs an extra pallet of broccoli or kale, we can get it to them because we’re so close.”
The company has recently conducted studies with Arizona State University to determine the impact buying local has on the overall carbon footprint, and economy of the area. The case studies have helped demonstrate the importance of buying local produce. “As I speak, I’m sitting here watching the carrot harvester go through our field,” laughs Charlie. “It’s a great feeling to know exactly where your food comes from. These carrots will be on shelves shortly, from farm to shelf, shelf to fork.”
Supporting Happy, Healthy Consumers
“I think of it like this: if the consumer isn’t happy and healthy, you’re not going to be in business for long,” shares Charlie. “That’s why we take every step possible to uphold responsible food safety practices.” Rousseau puts food safety at the forefront, leading the industry with a well-established program.
“We provide employee training and perform regular microbiological swabbing to test product and equipment,” details Charlie. “We also allow third-party audits and have in-house staff whose sole job is to research our food safety practices to make sure everything is up to speed.”
Supporting local consumers through the highest-quality produce has been the company’s vision for over 100 years. Rousseau packages all of its own carrots under its own self-titled brand and is currently working to promote this product.
“We’re trying to get a little more consumer recognition and refresh the interest with this line,” explains Charlie. “Some of the larger chains have put together media campaigns featuring our executives and emphasizing the fact that we’re local.”
After nearly a decade with Rousseau and over 24 years in the produce industry, Charlie has the know-how that allows him to continue to foster growth not only in the ground but within the company. “I started by shipping watermelons when I was just 9 years old,” recalls Charlie. “I did that through the summer and worked on ranches in the winter. That was my college savings plan.”
Charlie sees a bountiful future for Rousseau, with organic expansion and dedication to the community and family values the company was founded on. “We’re always looking to expand into new product lines and increasing our capabilities to produce more,” he says. “However, we have a great customer base and we like where we are, so there’s no plan to rapidly expand the business or change anything too much.
The company serves Phoenix and surrounding areas with a dedication to fresh produce local companies can rely on. Rousseau Farming Company remains rooted in the century-long family tradition of growing not only just fruits and vegetables, but also meaningful customer relationships.