About River Vista Farms
I started River Vista Farms in 1983. Our farming operation today consists of 3,500 acres spread out over 2 counties in Northern California. We currently grow 16 different crops that each demand highly specialized knowledge and equipment. In the years since I started River Vista Farms, we've seen many changes. Many advances in technology and equipment have enabled us to grow more food on less ground with less water and fewer employees. The diversity of crops grown in Northern California is an ever-changing mix of high-value commodities that demand the dry climate and rich soils we have to offer.
Really the only thing that hasn't changed in the last 40 years is the importance of hiring talented employees with a diversity of skills and the work ethic a complex farming operation demands. Kathy and I have been extremely fortunate in this regard. We are grateful for the loyalty of our long-term employees. The diversity of our shared skills allows us to produce the wide variety of crops listed below.
Crops We Grow
My great grandfather, Woodford Allen Yerxa, was one of the very first farmers in California to plant plum trees and dry the fruit into prunes that could be easily shipped. He helped to start Sunsweet Growers, now in its 101st year as a grower-owned cooperative that provides healthy and nutritious foods to the world. Today, I remain a member of Sunsweet and proudly produce the same high-quality crops our customers demand.
My grandfather, Max Yerxa, also devoted his life to farming at a less favorable time in history. Max lost all of his farming earnings and investments during the Great Depression and was lucky enough to get a job at the bank that foreclosed on his farmland. He worked at the bank for many years to earn the money he needed to return to a career in farming, but he was only able to purchase a very small farm before he passed away.
My father, Charles T. Yerxa served in the Navy during WWII and hoped, if he survived the war, to do something besides farm after seeing the tremendous hardships that his family had to overcome. As luck would have it, after WWII the United States was extremely motivated to help young farmers and determined to increase food production because demand for farm products was skyrocketing. With much encouragement, my father started farming with some poker winnings and his earnings from the Navy. He purchased a used John Deere tractor and leased some land to plant his first crop. At first, he did everything. He worked long hours, took financial risks and was able to increase his farming operation to about 2,000 acres.
I started out working for my father while I was in school. After graduating from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 1972 with a degree in Agricultural Business, my Dad asked me if I would like to start farming with him and I accepted. I worked for him for 15 years before I was able to buy him out. Over time, we have worked hard, found talented employees to help us, and together, we have nearly doubled the size of our operation to 3,500 acres.
Kathy also completed her degree in Agricultural Business at Cal Poly, SLO. She worked as a Pest Control Advisor from 1975 to 1988 when she came to work with me full-time. Kathy was a pioneer in her industry as one of the first women to work as a Pest Control Advisor in the state of California.
Both our children, Melissa and Mitchell work on the farm with us, as does Melissa's husband Antonio. Mitchell came back to the ranch in 2012, after completing his degree in Crop Science at Cal Poly, SLO and a 6-month internship in Iowa with Monsanto. Mitchell enjoys cultivating a huge network of friends and professional acquaintances; always looking for ideas that could improve our operations. Melissa joined us shortly before her second child was born, coming home from Texas where she settled with her husband Antonio after completing her Masters in Business Administration at Texas A&M University in College Station. Melissa is also a Cal Poly alumni - she earned her bachelors in Agricultural Businesses at Cal Poly. Melissa has helped bring our office and HR operations up to date. Antonio's engineering and technology experience has been a great addition to the team in recent years. He earned his degree in Telecom Engineering from Texas A&M and has a natural ability to create processes and procedures that help us continually improve.
In addition to their roles at River Vista Farms, Mitchell, Antonio, and Melissa have taken on leadership roles in various organizations. Mitchell is a Board Member for the California Tomato Growers Association and is a member of California Ag Leadership Class 48. I know firsthand how valuable the Ag Leadership experience is as I was a member of Class 5. Antonio is actively involved in coaching the Colusa Swim Team and is the President of our Rotary Club. Melissa is a member of the School Board for the Colusa Unified School District and also spends countless hours running the Colusa Swim Team.
We are in every way a family farm. We work hard, side by side with our valued employees to raise safe and nutritious food and seed crops. We are ever-mindful of the health of our soil and water quality as these are our most important resources.
As the rate of change continues to increase across the agriculture industry, we will continue look for opportunities to carry this family farm forward to the next generation. We are currently in the process of that transition - to what we fondly refer to as "G5" - the 5th generation! As Mitchell, Antonio, and Melissa take over management responsibilities, Kathy and I are enjoying spending more time off the ranch.
We will continue on amid drought years, market fluctuations, and an increased complexity of our operations and expect that our crop mix may evolve. We also expect that the work ethic, attention to detail, and level of intensity our family is known for will remain constant. We look forward to teaching our grandchildren to drive tractors before human operators become a thing of the past.