Ironically, Dick Peixoto, who owns Watsonville, Calif.-based Lakeside Organic Gardens, spent part of his childhood dragging spray hoses through apple orchards with his father, who worked for a fertilizer and pest control company.
In those days, Peixoto said, “If you saw a bug, you sprayed, and if you didn’t see a bug, you sprayed anyway because there might be one out there.”
But that was soon to change for Peixoto.
In 1995, he established Dick Peixoto Co. growing conventional produce. A year later, he transitioned 50 acres to organic and changed the company’s name to Lakeside Organic Gardens.
The company now is the largest family-owned and operated solely organic vegetable grower/shipper in the U.S., he said.
Lakeside produces more than 50 commodities year-round on 3,000 acres in two locations.
Peixoto entered the organic world because he was frustrated with the business model of the conventional produce industry and grew tired of growing for other shippers.
“They took their cut off the top, and whatever was left, the farmer would get,” he said.
He said the organic industry was “pretty shaky at the time,” but growers were surviving and Peixoto decided to take the risk.
“Dick started out with nothing more than determination and vision, and he was able to take that and create the unique and successful business that he has today,” said Tom AmRhein, vice president for Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Berry Growers Inc. and general manager at Elkhorn Berry Farms LLC, Watsonville.
“In an environment ever more dominated by big business, big government and big technology, Dick’s story reminds us of a time when determination, vision and just plain hard work were the keys to building a successful and independent family business,” said AmRhein, who has known Peixoto since grammar school.
Since launching Lakeside Organics, Peixoto said he feels like he has two families — one with his wife, Marisela, and their three kids, and another made up of his 300 employees.
“I treat the people at Lakeside like a family,” he said.
“I take a lot of pride in making sure they are participants in all areas of the business.”
Peixoto arrives at work at 6 a.m. each day and takes his place among his team members, not isolated in a corner office.
He said he is involved in every aspect of his operation.
The farm can have 500 different blocks working on any given day.
“I personally talk to my production team about what we’re going to do on each of those blocks,” he said.
For Peixoto, running a business is not just about profit, “it’s creating wealth for employees, the company and the community.”
His appreciation for his employees is more than just talk.
In profitable years, every worker gets a bonus, he said, not just upper management.
“We’re all part of the chain to make it work,” he said.