Stamoules Produce Company
In the heart of central California Stamoules Produce Company (SPC) has been satisfying the need for fresh, healthy, high-quality produce — cantaloupes, honeydew melons, mini watermelons, sweet corn, broccoli, onions, bell peppers and more — for 88 years. SPC is located just between the Sacramento Valley and the San Joaquin Valley in Mendota, California, and the company’s location makes it possible to produce more than 14 million boxes of produce per year.
The operation began with Spero Stamoules, a young immigrant from Greece. He planted the seed for the farm with the cantaloupe seeds he collected working as a waiter at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Although Spero died from a heart attack at age 54, his wife, Helen, and daughter, Peggy, carried on his farming dream. SPC planted its first California crop in 1927 and by the 1960s, SPC had started to grow more than just cantaloupes.
The farm remains family owned, led by Athanasios “Tom” Stefanopoulos, president of SPC. Over the years, the business has expanded, adding a new cooling facility, drip irrigation and various crop types. Today, SPC farms more than 19,000 acres in central California with more than 400 employees behind its sprawling acreage. While SPC takes pride in being a distinctively central California operation, its products can be found in every state, as well as in Canada and Mexico.
Since 2011, SPC has expanded by more than 4,000 acres, adding a new crop to its lineup with pistachio production. Pistachios have become one of America’s best-selling snack nuts and SPC is jumping aboard the opportunity. “We’re hoping to put another 300 acres in by winter 2016,” says Chuck Dees, irrigation engineer at SPC. “We also have hopes of adding a processing plant. We’re growing pistachios for The Wonderful Company and they market the popular nuts to customers in the U.S., Asia and Europe with the slogan, ‘Get Crackin’ as the headline of the campaign.”
SPC is also expanding its traditional production lines. “We bought another 2,000 acres for row crop production for regular produce like cantaloupe melons and sweet corn and maybe some bell peppers,” adds Dees. But one of SPC’s more recent, significant investments isn’t in specific crop production — it’s in water drilling projects.
Working around water challenges
The widespread drought in California has plagued farmers for several years and SPC was forced to take action. The company started by implementing sophisticated drip irrigation technology. “This is technology so efficient and sophisticated that you could operate it remotely from across the country if you wanted to,” asserts Dees, who brings over four decades of experience in the irrigation industry to SPC. The new system has timed water flow controls that can be adjusted from anywhere, ensuring that the water still available is used as efficiently as possible.
But with the serious water shortage in California, even the best irrigation system isn’t enough. “We’re now drilling our own wells to service our crops,” says Dees. “We’ve invested about $4 million in equipment to make drilling possible.”
SPC has even started a separate spin-off company to do drilling projects. “We started S&S Pumps and Drilling to do all of the drilling and pump service,” says Dees. “For now we’re just doing work for ourselves, but we may eventually branch out and do work for other people.”
S&S Pumps and Drilling is working on drilling 18 wells on the SPC property. “We feel like we can do it better than some contractors who want to take shortcuts, so we’ve chosen to do it ourselves,” says Dees. “The other benefit is we can dictate the schedule.”
Dees says time is of the essence in this case, particularly with the water shortage in California. “We can drill a well a month whereas with an outside contractor, we’d have to wait several months and that slows production,” he explains.
Dees sees more growth in S&S Pumps and Drilling and the opportunity for the drilling company to help other growers access water. “We can even sell some of the water we acquire from drilling,” he says.
Joining the movement
With roots in family history, SPC makes a point to donate to important causes. Since 2007, SPC has donated a portion of its produce sales to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and participated in an annual fundraising walk in Fresno, California.
“We can generate more activity, make more money [for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society] and inspire others to participate in small and big ways,” said Stefanopoulos in a release. The partnership includes the MS Society’s “We Joined the Movement” logo found on SPC’s broccoli boxes and rubber stem bands.
Dees, who’s been with the company for 17 years, says even with the water shortage and other business hurdles, the future is bright for SPC. “We’re expanding; we’re buying more land and acquiring more business,” he says. “It’s because we have very good people, we’re organized and well-financed and extremely well-managed. We have the infrastructure, the manpower and knowledge and experience you need to be successful in this business.”
Building on its 88-year history, Stamoules Produce Company is finding creative ways to work around challenges new and old and striving to meet and exceed produce quality expectations.