CASTROVILLE — In 1924, a man named Daniel Pieri arrived at a newly leased plot of land just south of Castroville and began to plant.
Pieri, who had been in the produce business since 1908, was known for forming the San Francisco Artichoke Association and the Santa Cruz Vegetable Company. With this experience, he aimed to start a new business.
Pieri and his cousins, Amerigo and Angelo Del Chiaros, began the California Artichoke & Vegetable Growers Corporation with local grower Alfred Tottino in 1924.
For the next 90 years, the company, renamed Ocean Mist Farms in 1995, would survive the Great Depression, two World Wars and a number of labor strikes to become the largest grower of artichokes in the United States.
And it is still family-run.
In 1972, Ed Boutonnet joined the company, and today, his family still manages Ocean Mist Farms. Many from the Pieri and Tottino families continue to be involved as well.
"We are a close community here," said Glen Alameda, a fourth-generation descendent of the Tottino family. Alameda has worked with Ocean Mist as well as a number of other farms and agriculture organizations.
Alameda explained that a good deal of people working for Ocean Mist are from Castroville or the surrounding areas, and that that has kept things local, despite how far the company reaches.
And it reaches far.
Ocean Mist Farms' crops are grown year-round throughout California, in Yuma, Ariz. and Baja, Mexico. Other than artichokes, the company grows up to 30 other crops, its largest being iceberg lettuce. Broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and more rare produce such as cordon and escarole are also grown.
But the artichokes are certainly the main draw. People from across the world have visited Ocean Mist to learn more about the small, thorny vegetable.
Diana McClean, director of marketing at Ocean Mist, described the company's recent experience with a group of Culinary Institute students from Singapore.
"The only way they knew how to cook an artichoke was to fry it," McClean said. "They were pleasantly surprised when they learned there were so many other possibilities."
Over the years, Ocean Mist has continued to lead the way in the evolution of the agriculture industry.
The company has become a leader in environmental stewardship. Water quality and preservation, pest management alternatives and green packaging are just some of the issues Ocean Mist has taken upon itself to address.
The Ocean Mist Farms Academic Scholarship Program, given out every year, recognizes five local students by rewarding them with $1,000 in academic scholarships. When Albert Pieri, part of the second generation of owners, died at the age of 90 back in March, donations were made to the scholarship in lieu of flowers.
"We are always looking to the future," McClean said, "and finding new ways to both educate and promote agriculture, both locally and worldwide."