Taylor Farms group shot
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Immersion Tours Unpack California’s Agribusiness in the Field
Food and ag expert Julie Morris leads new experiential course

For our new field trip course, “Pre-Immersion: Food & Agriculture,” kicked off with a great trip on Nov. 2 south to Salinas, Calif., where we spent our first two hours at Taylor Farms‘ retail packing operation.

It was mind blowing. They run up to 16 lines simultaneously packing salad mixes in an enormous refrigerated warehouse. They run 24 hours a day, six days a week, with deep cleaning on the seventh. On each of the six days, they run two shifts for packing, with the third shift for cleaning.

We suited up and went into the facility for a complete tour.

FelipeJackie Vasquez, director of operations for Sundance Berry FarmsLeslie and SophieTaylor Farms group shotInside Taylor FarmsWestern Growers Center for Innovation and Technology

From the time the lettuce, spinach or other inputs arrive into the facility to the time they are shipped, the turnaround is about 12 hours. This maximizes the freshness of their product being shipped to customers.

Founder Bruce Taylor’s son, Ted Taylor, helped us organize the tour. We met UC Davis alumnus Luis Amaral, who runs their Mexico plant on hand, as well as the operations manager in charge of the plant we visited, Rigo Ramirez.

We discussed food safety extensively and the impacts of contamination on the market for leafy greens, as well as innovation to deal with the labor shortages, and touched on waste management practices. We also discussed potential career tracks for MBAs.

We had a long discussion as well on the issues surrounding labor and the constraints in California agriculture.

We had a quick stop in downtown Salinas at the Taylor Farms headquarters, where we were hosted by the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology. Dennis Donahue leads the center, having previously built a strong career in produce and spent time as mayor of Salinas. The students heard about the pressures of governmental legislation on the labor market and the forces driving change and innovation in the fresh produce industry.

Finally we were fortunate to be hosted in the field by the director of operations for Sundance Berry Farms, Jackie Vazquez. She talked to students about the economic forces at play in the strawberry industry as well as the balance of power between suppliers and buyers (e.g. Costco). One student commented in the van on the way home that hearing this discussion was bringing to life a theory they were learning in their economics course!

Since there was active planting and picking going on while we visited, we got to see all the phases of strawberry growing: from field preparation to planting, picking and maintenance (and even picked a few fresh strawberries to eat in the field).

We had a long discussion as well on the issues surrounding labor and the constraints in California agriculture. It truly looks like back breaking work and the work force was fairly old. Younger people are avoiding field work at all costs, which is resulting in a tight labor market.

In summary, it was a very long, but very interesting and productive day.

This Pre-Immersion course is a precursor to the “Food and Ag Industry Immersion” course, which offers a deeper dive featuring live case studies by top food and agribusiness executives.