As chairman of the board, D’Arrigo still puts in about 30 hours a week for the company in long-term strategic planning. His son, John D’Arrigo, is president of D’Arrigo Bros. as well as chairman of Irvine-based Western Growers.
His daughter, Margaret D’Arrigo-Martin, is executive vice president and a well-known advocate in the fight against breast cancer and a proponent of healthful eating.
He enjoys getting away to fish for steelhead and salmon and occasionally hunts ducks, but D’Arrigo remains in love with produce. He’s the patriarch of one of the families that put down roots in the dark, rich Salinas soil and nurtured into being a successful family produce company.
“I’ve got the best of both worlds,” D’Arrigo said with a laugh. “I can work if I want to or go fishing if I want to go fishing. I don’t tell my kids what to do — I tell them what I think. I apply my experience to their day-to-day issues, and if they have a project nobody wants, I’m happy to end up with it.”
During his career, D’Arrigo has seen transportation switch from rail to truck and crop production technology improve from old tractors to laser leveling and global positioning satellite furrowing.
Marketing has become more important. And where yesterday’s market was driven by retail, today foodservice has as big an impact. Consolidation at retail and on the supply side have changed the produce landscape, and year-round production has gone from unheard of to impossible to do without.
D’Arrigo, who took over the company at 27 after the death of his father, has kept up and is looking for what’s next. He recently redesigned D’Arrigo Bros.’ cactus pear packaging to a single layer, which was a big improvement for buyers, D’Arrigo-Martin said.
“He’s helped manage and grow the cactus pear purée operation,” she said. “He had the vision many years ago to focus our company on the following: land acquisition, equipment and research and development. Our efforts in seed development, density seed grading and variety selection has kept us out in front of our competition.”
Some of D’Arrigo’s fondest early memories are of tagging along with his father into the fields.
“In those days I rode with him into Washington and Idaho chasing fresh peas,” he said. “I spent a lot of time riding in the country with my father. As I got older, I worked on the ranch during school vacations and weekends. When I was small, I put labels on crates.”