Ocean Mist Farms Celebrating 100 Years

In the early days, artichokes were packed in a tin-roofed shed.

Originally printed in the February 2024 issue of Produce Business.

As it celebrates its 100th anniversary, Ocean Mist Farms, established in 1924 by five founding fathers from four families, has demonstrated a determination that rivals the little engine that could.

“We’ve long since claimed the coveted title of being the largest grower/shipper of artichokes in North America,” says Ocean Mist Farms President and Chief Executive Chris Drew. “And the knowledge and perseverance that positioned us to master growing the often-fickle artichoke, continues to drive us to develop, produce, grow and harvest our artichokes that are considered the gold standard and are highly sought after by consumers nationwide.”

Ocean Mist Farms was established when founding members Daniel Pieri, cousins Amerigo and Angelo Del Chiaros and Jim Bellone all came to the U.S. from Italy. They made their way to Castroville, CA — now known as the self-proclaimed “Artichoke Center of the World” — where they met and partnered with another founding father, Alfred Tottino. Together, they formed the California Artichoke & Vegetable Growers Corporation, which they would do business as for 71 years until 1995, when it officially became Ocean Mist Farms.

In the early days, partners conducted business in an old tin-roofed shed with no electricity and no telephones, and business was done with a handshake. The first crops were artichokes, arguably the most challenging vegetable to grow; Brussels sprouts; and broccoli.

The original crate label carried the California Artichoke & Vegetable Growers Corporation name. In 1995, the company officially became Ocean Mist Farms.

This area in Castroville provided the perfect trifecta of year-round sun, but in a temperate climate; soil, that is both fertile and nutrient-rich; and fog, which provides moisture and natural air conditioning to the fields. These factors create one of the few actual “Mediterranean climates” in this country, which artichokes love and thrive in.

In the 1950s and ’60s, the company added several new vegetables to its offering, including cabbage, cardone and fennel. By 1969, Ocean Mist began centralized packing, developing consistency and quality standards using corrugated containers. In the 1970s, it added leafy greens, cauliflower, and other specialty vegetables.

Over the years and decades, Ocean Mist continued adding more vegetables to its lineup, acquired more acreage, and eventually established southern growing regions for winter crops, ensuring year-round availability.

In 1988, the first winter harvest in Coachella, CA, produced a cornucopia of fresh vegetable items. And in 1998, the company moved into its new cooling facility and corporate headquarters office in Castroville.

Turning its sights back on its southern growing region, in 2007, the Coachella cooler and distribution center was expanded; and again in 2015, it underwent a $20 million remodel, which increased the plant to 65,000 square feet, 25 loading docks and a new administrative office.

“At the end of the day, it’s about our most valuable asset — our people — who made and make this company amazing, productive and successful. From our founding fathers, and the four generations that followed, to the many people who have led, directed, challenged, and worked so hard for this company over the past 10 decades,” says Drew, who will celebrate his 20-year milestone in June 2024. He took over as president and chief executive in October 2021.

“As the officer at the helm of this industry-leading company during our centennial year, I have such a great sense of pride, mixed with a heavy dose of humility, that I feel for the achievements of the many Ocean Mist Farms’ employees — past and present — who have brought us to this milestone,” he said.