Mike Costa of Costa Family Farms
Costa Family Farms is the main grower-partner for Mann Packing Company, and grows about 85% of its products. That’s 20 different vegetable varieties packed 150-160 ways, 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year. All of Mann’s leaf products are grown by Costa Family Farms including Arcadian Harvest, RomaCrunch, romaine, iceberg, green/red leaf lettuce and spinach.
When was your business founded?
My father, Anthony Costa, began farming in 1956 with 150 acres in Soledad, CA, and our family still grows on those original acres today.
How has the industry changed?
My dad started out growing mainly sugar beets, small white beans and potatoes, then moved into leaf lettuce and green onions. Over time, it evolved from the dry land crops to more green vegetables. Even if you look at something like green leaf lettuce, when I was a kid we would have to grow it in an open trench because it needed daylight to sprout. There would be times when you would get only 300 cartons an acre. Now, if you don’t get 1,000-1,200 cartons per acre, you’re doing something wrong. The technology in seeds has changed, the enhancement in seeds has changed, and the germination of seeds has changed.
With that, productivity has changed over the years. Where you would pack green leaf only one way in the 1960’s or 70’s, we now pack product 20-25 different ways, including different commodity packs for suppliers. My dad used to say – and he said this 10 years ago –”If you had told me 20 years ago we’d be doing what we’re doing now, I would’ve said you were crazy.”
There have been not only varietal changes, but cultural changes. Drip irrigation changed the Salinas Valley: there are a lot of areas where, and if it wasn’t for drip irrigation, we wouldn’t be growing vegetables.