Family-Owned and Operated. Lakeside Organic Gardens is the largest family-owned and operated solely organic vegetable grower/shipper in the USA.
Lakeside Organic Gardens was started in 1996 by Dick Peixoto. Dick started farming conventionally while he was still in high school and after graduation in 1975 he began his full time farming career. He grew many crops over the next several years from tomatoes and pickling cucumbers to green beans, zucchini and lettuce. He finally settled on lettuce in the late 1980’s growing for Salyer American. After 10 years of growing lettuce, celery and cauliflower he was becoming a little disenfranchised with the conventional markets. For one thing the prices were very low making it hard to make a profit. But more importantly pesticide use was becoming an ever increasing problem in California but especially in Santa Cruz County.
At this time Dick started to look into organic farming. With his background in conventional farming he was a little skeptical about being able to farm organically on a large scale. So he got some advise from some organic farmers and decided to give it a try.
Ironically he started his first organic farming on the ranch he had started on back in 1976 growing green beans. So Lakeside Organic Gardens started on the Lakeview ranch garnering its name and logo from the farmhouse on the side of the lake. He started out by growing about 50 different crops on 55 acres. There was definitely a learning curve in those early years. When we started we sold primarily in the San Jose Farmers market. After that first year we realized that in order to do this on the scale that Dick was used to farming we needed more customers and we needed to fine tune the product line to what the customers wanted.
The other factor that was important in our growth process was that we needed to transition ground to organic. In 1996 there was not much organic ground in Watsonville to rent. So we either had to find ground that had been fallow for at least three years or we had to transition the ground ourselves. Fortunately we were able to grow some crops organically and sold them to the conventional markets while we were transitioning the ground. Once we had grown organically for 3 years we were able to certify the ground so that we could then sell our product as certified organic vegetables.
In the winter of 2000-2001 we took on a winter harvest venture, growing in El Centro. We realized that in order to sustain our business and keep our customers we needed to provide product year round. Although this was in theory a good idea, the first year was very difficult since we had never grown outside of the Pajaro Valley before. That coupled with the growing pains of a new business and the learning curve with the transition to organics spelled trouble for the fledgling company. But we struggled through and continued to make a name for ourselves in the organic market place.
So today we lease about 800 acres in the Pajaro Valley and 400 in the Imperial Valley. We grow approximately 50 varieties of organic vegetables and we sell to customers all across the United States and Canada. The company is still under the same ownership and management as when it started in 1996. Dick Peixoto’s sister and 3 brothers help him manage the company and several nieces and nephews as well as his own 3 children are learning the business as well.
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