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Stamoules Produce Company: Using Modern Approaches to Feed America’s Families
Nowhere in the world can farmland produce quite as much fresh fruit and vegetable as California’s Central Valley, and it is companies like Stamoules Produce Company (SPC) that put modern irrigation and farming practices to the test to produce billions of pounds of fresh cantaloupes, honey dews, mini watermelons, sweet corn, broccoli, pistachios and bell peppers yearly. SPC is located just between the Sacramento Valley and the San Joaquin Valley in Mendota, Calif., and the company’s location makes it possible to produce some 14 million boxes of produce per year. “This is the most fertile land in the entire world and we take pride in being a super-efficient operation using some of the most advanced irrigation systems available,” asserts Chuck Dees, irrigation engineer for SPC.
As proud as SPC is of being a modern and efficient operation, it is even more proud of being an operation that upholds a long family lineage. Tom Stefanopoulos and family own and operate the company with help from up to 2,000 employees, and Dees asserts that the end goal is to reinforce a company that has been strong enough to last generations.
Even in its early days the company, which was founded in 1927, has thrived on producing products that are an integral part of the American family dinner table. SPC grows produce across its 18,000 acres for virtually every meal, and it is the yearly practice to exceed customer satisfaction with an increase in production efficiency. SPC takes priding being a distinctively Central California operation, but its products can be found in every state of the union, as well as in Canada and Mexico.
Increasing Internal Efficiencies
Unlike many of the other farming operations in the state, SPC has reduced its overhead costs by operating fields as close together as possible. “Some farms have land in Yuma over to Indio and in Salinas, and they spend way more time just moving around, so we have tried to make our operations as contiguous as possible,” explains Dees. Boxes are packed daily in the fields and quickly shipped to SPC’s 450,000-square foot cooling plant to preserve freshness.
More recently, the company focuses on making changes internally to prepare for the future and keep the operation profitable by reducing overhead costs where possible and shopping around for the best price from its suppliers. “Price makes a difference if the quality is the same,” asserts Dees. The company also employs a sophisticated cooling technology to bring produce just to the brink of freezing to preserve the nutrient content and freshness of highly perishable produce, which is immediately trucked in refrigerated vehicles.
Even with SPC’s efficiencies in place, increasing environmental regulations on the local water supply have been a major challenge for the company and the local agricultural industry, but SPC has never been the kind of company to cower before a challenge. When founder Spero Stamoules died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 54, his wife Helen charged ahead with a remarkable business acumen and unwavering sense of humor. It was she who helped grow the business and it is her legacy that the company continues to carry on.
Water is key to the success of any farming operation and the recent restrictions on the water supply in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta have made water a precious commodity. Instead of reducing the scale of its operations the company designed and implemented a sophisticated drip irrigation technology. “This is technology so efficient and sophisticated that you could operate it remotely from across the country if you wanted to,” asserts Dees, who brings over four decades of experience in the irrigation industry to SPC. The new system has timed water flow controls that can be adjusted from anywhere, ensuring that the water still available is used as efficiently as possible.
Being environmentally conscious is integral to the company, but equally important is a focus on food safety as a proactive measure against increasing regulations and for the health of the end consumer. SPC produces some of the most essential parts of the American diet and the company is a certified member of the NutriClean Pesticide Residue Free program run by Scientific Certification Systems. The program can be applied to both organic and conventional farming operations and uses the most sophisticated technology and testing to guarantee that no pesticide residue is left on a single piece of produce. SPC has been using the program to certify its crops since 1999.
Preparing for the Future
Testing and certification are important, but keeping storage facilities safe and sanitary is an equally critical part of any food safety program. SPC arms itself with an Ingersoll Rand Environment Management System that helps clean and sanitize the air and surfaces in any cooler facility without the use of harsh chemicals. According to the manufacturer, the system can remove mold, bacteria and viruses by up to 99.9 percent through a patented technology that “converts a percentage of the oxygen molecules into gas phase sanitizers.” These molecules are then circulated through the air to sanitize the room and its contents, continually reducing the risk for E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria and Pseudomonas.
Investments don’t end in the field or the cooling facility, however. 2012 marks the company’s 85th anniversary and the firm completed construction on a brand new head office this summer. The new building involved complicated, twisted glass façade work that Dees says took the company six months to complete, but the building’s modern design reflects the modernity of its own operations. “Now most of the sales staff is on the second floor so we can look out across all of our fields. You can see half the world almost,” jokes Dees.
Surveying its lands and their potential, SPC is always keeping an eye out for new growth opportunities. According to Dees, the cooling facility is running almost at maximum capacity and eventually a new addition is inevitable. “We are always looking for something exciting to do and we have considered acquiring more land to grow our produce or to use to expand our pistachio operation,” he reflects. For now, though, the company is waiting to see how things play out in Washington, D.C., before making any more major infrastructural investments. When the time does come to expand, the Stamoules Produce Company team will be ready and waiting in the wings to mobilize and prepare the company for a new era of family tradition.