Like many companies, Ocean Mist Farms continues to grow its organic program, which now includes 26 organic items. Several California firms are expanding their organic offerings. ( Ocean Mist Farms )

The organic category is playing an increasingly important role in the California spring vegetable deal as a growing number of suppliers add organic vegetables to their product lines.

Five Crowns Marketing, Brawley, Calif., launched an organic sweet corn program for the first time last October, said co-owner Bill Colace.

"This will be our first spring with it," he said.

The program will kick off in Scottsdale, Ariz., in June then move northward to Mendota and Tracy, Calif., through October.

The company's organic sweet corn deal will be rather small at first, Colace said.

"We're just going to see where it goes," he said. "We want to dabble in it and find out for ourselves if it's a viable commodity."

Five Crowns is pleased with the response it received to its initial offerings last fall, he said.

The company added organic sweet corn in response to customer requests resulting from increased demand.

"The demand for good produce - whether organic or conventional - is up," Colace said.

"I think we are truly eating healthier as a nation."

The organic program at Boskovich Farms, Oxnard, Calif., has increased 10% to 15% over the past five years, said Darrell Beyer, organic sales manager.

The company lists green onions, radishes, parsley, kales, cilantro, beets, broccoli, chards, cabbage, celery, Brussels sprouts, carrots, collards and asparagus among its organic products.

Organic produce almost always is priced more than conventional items because of the added costs required to produce it, so sometimes making organics profitable can be a real challenge.

"There's a lot of stuff planted out there," Beyer said. "Everyone says there's plenty of demand, but they can only eat so much kale."

Because of the high volume of organic vegetables now in the market, prices "just keep going lower and lower," he said.

"The movement doesn't pick up that much," he said. "It just brings the market down, and it's much harder to bring it back up these days."

The organic program at Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Calif., also continues to grow, said Diana McClean, director of marketing.

The company now offers 26 items, including its most recent addition - radishes.

"Ocean Mist Farms has the land and harvest capabilities to grow organic produce in various regions, including Coachella, Calif., and Baja California, Mexico, which supports the consumer demand for a wide variety of organic offerings," she said.

Salinas-based D'Arrigo Bros. Co. of California has increased its organic acreage of Andy Boy Broccoli Rabe, romaine hearts and fennel, said Claudia Pizarro-Villalobos, marketing and culinary manager.

"Our numbers have increased steadily every year," she said, and the company continues to look for organic land.

"We know demand has heavily increased, so we want to make sure we can supply our organic customers as well as our conventional customers."

All of the conventional items that The Nunes Co. Inc., Salinas, ships are available in organic versions, said Doug Clausen, vice president of sales.

That includes Foxy brand iceberg lettuce, parsley, kale romaine hearts and many others.

There also are a few extra organic bunched items available.

"We've got demand," Clausen said, adding that the company "continues to look for good trading partners to build organic business with."

"We're finding growth across all of our items - conventional and organic," he said.

Sustainability often goes hand in hand with organics, so many grower-shippers that provide organic vegetables also are into growing sustainably.

Five Crowns Marketing is "very concerned about sustainability," Colace said, and has put some strong programs in place.

For example, the company has installed solar energy systems in a couple of its facilities.

"Green energy is a hot topic," he said.

The company is "always thinking of the future" and of reinvesting in its infrastructure, he added, "so sustainability is very important to us."

Boskovich Farms definitely is sustainably oriented, Beyer said.

"That's why we grow organically."

Retail buyers rarely ask about it, though, since they assume the company meets all of their specifications when it comes to areas like food safety and sustainability, he said.