Farmer talks sprouts, philanthropy


ABOVE: Steve Bontadelli explains the finer points of growing Brussels Sprouts at Bontadellli Farms in Watsonville. (Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE — Steven Bontadelli is certain he has the best office in the world.

It might be hard to disagree — after all, Bontadelli needs only to step out his front door and into the Brussels sprout fields surrounding his Watsonville home to commute to it everyday.

“This is what I love most about what I do,” he said. “Being right here.”

Bontadelli Farms is located off of San Andreas Road in Watsonville, looking out to the Monterey Bay. The property boasts more than 240 acres — most of it chock full of Brussels sprout plants. The farm’s employees have been hard at work harvesting after a successful growing season.

“It’s all the fog we’ve had,” Bontadelli explained. “Brussels sprouts love it. When I give tours to kids I always joke, ‘The reason this is here is for the same reason you might hate summer — all that fog!’”

In addition to maintaining the Watsonville farm, Bontadelli also manages the Pfyffer Associates packing plant in Santa Cruz, which his family took over from founder Fred Pfyffer decades ago, and he is current president of local nonprofit organization, Agri-Culture. In June the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau named Bontadelli as the 2018 Farmer of the Year.

Sadly, Bontadelli’s father, Ernest Bontadelli passed away just a day after the Farm Bureau’s ceremony. This prompted Bontadelli to form the Ernest & Beverley Bontadelli Memorial Fund, in honor of both his parents, by donating $25,000 to Agri-Culture.

An educational nonprofit, Agri-Culture is a nationally-recognized organization which offers a number of different scholarships, educational and leadership programs, a land conservation program, farmworker housing assistance and more.

“My dad was a very generous man,” he said, “and my mom too, with their time and money. They wanted to make sure agriculture had and kept its place in our county.”

No stranger to philanthropy, Bontadelli also helped create the Laura Brown Memorial Scholarship Fund earlier this year.

“The more you can give back, the better,” Bontadelli said.

As for the faction of the agriculture industry Bontadelli is most involved in, things are looking good.

With the resurgence in popularity of Brussels sprouts in the United States and beyond, growers are scrambling to meet the demand.

Bontadelli guesses that it has a lot to do with popular cooking shows and their embracing of the once-frowned upon vegetable.

“Suddenly you’re seeing chefs like Emeril using Brussels sprouts, insisting they’re delicious,” he said. “People learn that there are other ways to cook them instead of just boiling them into mush.”

sprouts

Steve Bontadelli's prefered method of cooking Brussels Sprouts? Roasting. “It's easy” he said. “Just drizzle some olive oil on a pan, sprinkle some seasoning, and stick them in the oven and boom, you’re done.” (Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian)

With the increase in demand also comes challenges, Bontadelli said. Especially with the growing labor shortage, and the amount of paperwork modern farmers have to keep track of.

“It seems like I spend about 40 percent of my times these days filling out forms,” he said wryly.

But Bontadelli maintains that he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Being a farmer, you’re outside a lot, and you’re doing something different every day,” he said. “There’s nothing else like it.”

Tax-deductible contributions can be made to the Ernest & Beverley Bontadelli Memorial Fund. Checks should be written to Agri-Culture, 141 Monte Vista Ave., Watsonville, CA 95076, with a note reading “Bontadelli Memorial Fund.” Credit card donations can be made at agri-culture.us/funds or by calling the Agri-Culture office at (831) 722-6622.