Frank Castiglione (left) and John Arena ( The Packer )

The following article from The Packer's 75th-anniversary edition, was published in 1968.

As The Packer prepares to publish our 125th-anniversary edition later this year, we are posting some of the writing from previous anniversary publications.

This article tells of the origination of the Western Growers Association. At the time the article was written, WGA was 42 years old.

Western Growers Association, Formed for 'Protection' in 1926, Now Leads in Many Industry Activities

Faced with a proposed 20 per cent increase in standard refrigeration rates for its produce, already suffering great geographic disadvantage in reaching major markets, seven determined western vegetable and melon grower-shippers met at the Los Angeles Union Terminal on May 9, 1926, to discuss ways and means of presenting concerted opposition. This was the first meeting of the Western Growers Protective Association, now the Western Growers Association, and the decision was to organize the California-Arizona industry and aggressively oppose the carriers’ proposal.

Presenting a solid front, the association was successful in having the proposed rate increase cancelled. Now, many years and many battles later, this pioneer trade association has grown to become a strong force in American agriculture, for its members now produce and ship more than 35 per cent . of the nation’s fresh vegetables and melon, last year the total movement of these commodities originated by members totaled 168,264 carlots.

John S. Arena, of the A. Arena Co., Ltd., is the only member attending the historic meeting in Los Angeles 42 years ago still alive and active. Other leaden present were A. E. Barker, H. P. Garin, C. ‘ I. Sawdey, A. T. “Tracy” Miller, George Mann and Alvin Jack. With the exception of Miller and Maim, all of these men later served as president of the Western Growers Association.

A. E. Barker was the first president of the Western Growers Association, with Frank Newsom managing secretary and John S. Arena as treasurer, a post be still holds today. The 11-man board of directors included all of the seven incorporators, with the addition of George H. Jones, 0. W. Schleiasner, Elmer Sean and Dean Stanley. The last named two, with John Arena, are the only living members of the original board.

In many ways, the early success of the Western Growers Association defied the prognosis of contemporary agricultural leaden. For the association came into being at a time when the major Western perishable commodities were marketed through huge grower owned cooperatives, and it was not thought possible that an industry in the hands of independent operators, each marketing his own products, could find a common meeting ground. That they did seems all the more remarkable to those who were intimately acquainted with the men who steered the organization through the first difficult years, for they were individuals who, independent in thought and action, built most of the great growing and shipping operations which are so important in the industry today. That they also trained a group of capable, broad-gauged men who continue to recognize the value of organized effort to succeed them is also testimony to their far-sightedness.

Dedication on the part of the men who were appointed to the position of management has also contributed greatly to the success of the WGA. The first Managing Secretary was Frank Newson, who resigned in 1928 and was succeeded by C. B. Moore, “Chet” Moore served the industry until his retirement in 1957, when his assistant since 1942, Frank W. Castigtione, became Executive Vice President, a post he still holds today. Moore died in February, 1963.

During the early years, association activities were pretty much confined to Traffic and Legislative matters. The rail and motor carriers soon learned to respect the organization and instead of attempting to institute rate increases and other additional transportation costs by decree, found it best to present their position to the Association Traffic Committee through the Association Traffic Department. Today confrontations between the railroads and the industry are on a “cards- on-the-table” basis, with both factors respecting the others needs. As a result, the association has saved many millions of dollars in transportation costs for its members and at the same time benefited distributors, retailers and customers as well. Leslie M. Cox is now executive assistant-transportation. 

While the WGA always maintains close watch on all federal and state legislation, it has been particularly effective in matters having to do with standardization, tomato and melon containers and several others have been introduced and passed in both the California and Arizona legislatures at the request of the WGA.

Labor is Concern

Labor, too, has been a primary concern of WGA over the years, at both State and National level. Its strong opposition on the repeal of Section 14B of the Taft-Hartley Law, amending the Right-to-Work feature, has been influential in maintaining this section on the law for those states which want it.

Although the WGA feels that some national labor leaders are attempting to use their positions to secure complete control of the economy, the WGA is not anti-union, and serves its members and union representatives in negotiations of contracts with both AFL-CIO and Teamsters several major onions. These contracts, through the years, have shown continuous advances for the worker in wages, working conditions and fringe benefits. The past year marked the signing by WGA members of three major union contracts covering nearly every commodity shipped by them. Included in them were sizable wage increases spread over a three year term, big increases in Health and Welfare programs and the establishment of a Pension Plan. All benefits are employer-paid at no cost to the worker, and were paid to seasonal workers who are employed by an individual firm for only a brief period of a year.

Ever mindful of the need to maintain consumer interest in fresh vegetables and melons, the WGA maintains a strong and active consumer service, which prepares and issues educational materials not only on the food values of, but the best ways to prepare and serve them. These releases, both pictorial and text, are widely used by food editors, home economists and other staff members of mass circulation media. The association’s “Western Ways with Fresh Vegetables and Melons,” a beautiful booklet published in full color, has had wide distribution; this year, in revised form and with many unique new features, it is being hailed by the fresh food industry as an outstanding vehicle for maintaining interest in “the fresh.” Mary Roberts, nationally known home economist, heads the consumer service function.

PR Not Overlooked

Public relations, too, have not been overlooked. In 1929, the association sponsored a new publication, “Western Grower & Shipper,” founded by Ross H. Gast as the “voice” of the Western row crop industries, and in 1946, WGA became fully responsible for its publication.

One more recent activation is the WGA Trade Relations Service, which guides Regular Members in any controversies or problems winch may arise in the marketing of their products and to relieve them of the often complicated and complex technicalities winch they may Experience in the collection of disputed shipments. This service was inaugurated in 1966, with John Catlin as Executive Assistant — Trade Relations. Catlin came to the association with many years of experience in this work as a member of the Regulatory Branch of the US. DA which enforces the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act Still another service to regular members is the maintenance of a Terminal Market Representative in the East and Middlewest This position is now held by Rodney Chisholm, who visits various markets, observing arrival condition and quality, reporting his findings directly to grower- shippers concerned.

To properly present the 42 years of service of this aggressive organization in such a sketch as this is difficult, just as it is to properly appraise the contribution of the pioneer leaden and the successors who has served as its Officers and Directors. One day, however, this will be told as an important chapter in the history of Western agriculture.