Mike Hitchcock of Mission Farms in Salinas, California, grew up in Salinas, so he’s always been surrounded by agriculture — but he didn’t exactly grow up in agriculture.
“My dad was a banker,” Mike says. “But I always knew I’d like to go into the ag business. So I went to Cal Poly [California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo] and got my business degree.”
A nice niche business
Mike was working in the agricultural pest control business when he got the chance to go into partnership with a conventional grower. He enjoyed the farming business and applied his aptitude for numbers to the business with vigor.
“We started experimenting with organic farming on a very small piece of land, maybe half an acre,” he remembers. “At the time, growing organic baby lettuces for spring mix seemed like it’d be a nice niche business. But when we had to start planting more and more to meet the growing demand for organics, I knew it was going to turn into something big. These organic practices have even made a difference in the way we run our other conventional farms.”
Today, Mike oversees an organic harvest of a wide range of different items, from leafy greens to commodity fruits and vegetables, from about 300 acres every week — he has to plan his plantings accordingly to have the crops ready to go when they’re needed. "I love a challenge," he says. "I know what's supposed to happen when we put a crop in the ground, but there's a lot that can happen between planting and harvest! It's a risky business."
Committed to the healthiest food possible
“Organic growers work a lot harder to grow the healthiest crops because it’s the right thing to do, even though it’s more difficult and expensive than farming conventionally,” he says. “In addition, we have to make and keep a steady commitment to food safety — from before we plant all the way through harvest — to ensure that we’re delivering not just the most delicious and healthy organic produce, but the safest possible food for consumers who end up buying it.
“I won’t say that Earthbound Farm’s exacting food safety standards and procedures make my life easier,” he continues. “Those standards go all the way down to my fields, including inspections and testing even before my crop gets planted. But that’s what it takes. I know how important my children are to me, and I know that people want to give their children the safest, healthiest food they can. When they choose our organic produce, I want them to be choosing the best organic produce possible.”