ANDY D’ARRIGO: Boyhood photo graces the Andy Boy label.
(March 19) SALINAS, Calif. — When Andy D’Arrigo started working for his father’s produce company, the new deal had nothing to do with rebuilding America but everything to do with the introduction of a traditionally Italian crop to America.
It was 1927.
This particular new deal, of course, was broccoli, which Italian immigrants had mainly been growing in their back yards up until then.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s answer to the Great Depression was still several years away when 3-year-old Andy began appearing in coveralls on the brand new labels for D’Arrigo Bros. Co.
For that matter, Black Tuesday and the Great Depression were still a couple of years off.
Young Andy’s father, Stefano, and Andy’s uncle, Andrea, formed D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California, in 1923. In 1924, the same year Andy D’Arrigo was born, they became the first to ship ice-packed broccoli by train from coast to coast.
Eighty years later, D’Arrigo, who could teach Dick Clark a thing or two about looking young, remains a strong part of D’Arrigo Bros. of California, which now grows more than 15 crops on 30,000 acres in California and Arizona.
D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California was formed in the late 1940s, about the same time that Andy D’Arrigo’s uncle, Andrea D’Arrigo started D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of Mass. in Boston.
Shortly thereafter, Andrea D’Arrigo, who had helped found the original D’Arrigo Bros. Co. with Stefano D’Arrigo, sent his son Stephen D’Arrigo to New York to launch D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York.
Andy D’Arrigo doesn’t recall posing for the pictures that have made his boyhood countenance part of a famous produce label for nearly eight decades. But he remembers hearing stories about his father posing him with different vegetables.
Had his mother had her way, young Andy D’Arrigo would have been introduced to the produce industry wearing silk rompers.
“At the last minute, Dad decided to put me in coveralls,” he said.
Rompers may be far behind him, but the produce business isn’t.
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.”
He raised his children similarly.
“He has influenced me so much in how I conduct myself,” said John D’Arrigo. “He taught me that your word is your bond. When I was young, he put me to work on the crews. I road to work with them on the bus. He taught me to treat everyone with respect.”
“Andy is firm, but fair,” she said. “He treats his employees with respect. For a man who’s built an amazing business, he is incredibly humble. He still considers himself a dirt farmer. He is not shy about offering his opinions or experience, but he allows us to run the day-to-day aspects of the business.”
But D’Arrigo himself credits the values behind the company to the generation that came before him.
“The first generation had a lot of foresight,” he said. “I want to credit them for teaching me the ethics, the honesty and the principles I have grown up with. They taught me to recognize the agricultural opportunities, and I’m trying to pass that on.”
And he did so as his children were young, walking the fields with him.
“I’ve walked many a field with him,” John D’Arrigo said. “He always told me don’t get trapped in the office because it all starts with the ground.”
One of the greatest bits of wisdom D’Arrigo-Martin gained from him came when she returned to the company after her first year of college.
“I’ll never forget the words of wisdom that my dad spoke to me,” she said. “‘If you can’t be on time, be early.’ He instilled good values in us. He said he’d give us a job, but it was up to us to keep it. We had to learn respect. He believed in higher education as well as John and I learning every aspect of the business by working in the fields, the coolers, the sales office and closely with our landlords and customers.”