Arnott Duncan, CEO of Duncan Family Farms, Buckeye, Ariz., couldn’t be more proud of his employees.
“I think you’d be blown away with the talent we have at this place — how cool they are, how fun they are to work with,” he said. “It’s really fun to come to work every day.”
Duncan and his wife, Kathleen, started growing baby leaf items in Arizona on a seasonal basis in the early 1980s.
Today they grow more than 8,000 acres of organic leafy greens and chopped salad items year-round for some of the world’s largest processors in growing regions like California, Oregon and New York as well as Arizona.
“As they decentralize the processing facilities, and they become more regional, production has to meet those needs,” Duncan said.
The company’s move to organic came when the farm opened up its facilities to the public, creating an “incredible agritourism facility,” he said.
“When you have 30,000 students visiting your place each year,” he said, “you make sure it is safe.”
Increasing demand for organic products and a desire to preserve the environment also led to his decision to go organic.
The ranch had to stop the tours after 2001 because of increased activity at a nearby flight training center, but he said he learned a lot about growing organically.
“Expanding into organics was a great opportunity that was in front of us at the time,” he said. “You learn so much more about agronomics when you’re farming organically.”
Duncan credits his company’s success to his dedicated employees, some of whom have been with him for nearly 30 years.
Last year, he gathered workers together in a ceremony to honor longtime employees.
“It was fun to get everybody together and introduce people to the people who have been there the longest,” he said.
It was just one of several get-togethers he holds for employees throughout the year.
He puts on “little fiestas” to mark the beginning and end of the harvest and hosts events for various holidays.
Abelardo “Lalo” Orozco Rios, the company’s farm director, has been with Duncan for 25 years and said he considers him a good leader.
“He’s not like the boss,” he said. “He’s more like a coworker or teacher.”
Workers aren’t intimidated when Duncan comes out to the field, he said.
“They feel comfortable with him, and they learn from him.”
During the summer, Duncan may bring out Gatorade, sodas or pizza, he said.
Duncan encourages employees to learn new things beyond their given assignment, he said.
Duncan said his management style is to educate employees about why the company does what it does, then step out of the way and let them perform.
“People really enjoy the culture once they understand it and accept it. I’m humbled by that and proud of that.”