It is harvest time in northern Colorado and while others specialize in grains, Dave Petrocco and his family specialize in growing fresh produce. When your family has been growing produce for over 100 years, you are not just experienced, it is in your blood. One hundred years ago the ancestors of Dave Petrocco were growing produce in Italy, and when they came to Colorado in the 1900s, they brought that skill with them and farmed along Clear Creek in the Golden area.
“Our farming operation is the result of a number of generations. It started in Italy, where kinfolk were from, and they were vegetable growers,” said Petrocco. “Some of them moved to Colorado in the early 1900s, and began farming vegetables along the Clear Creek and then it went on to the next generation, to my folks.”
Petrocco Farms is a family owned and operated business with growing operations centered in the La Salle and Brighton, Colo., areas. The company headquarters, which includes processing, packing and shipping is located in Brighton. “We plant 2,600 acres of vegetables and we’ve been doing that consistently for the past 10 years,” said Dave Petrocco.
Petrocco Farms is a family owned business which includes “myself, two sons and a daughter and a daughter-in-law. We all have our own areas to sustain. Each one of us has many different responsibilities to make the growing and the packing, warehousing and the sales of the product,” said Petrocco.
The number of fresh vegetables that Dave Petrocco and his family produce is extensive and includes Leaf Lettuce, Cabbage, Leafy Greens, Green Beans and Onions. “We pretty much grow the same items and we have for many years. We select crops on the basis of success and how well we can produce that crop, and also on demand in the marketplace,” said Petrocco, “Vegetable demand fluctuates very much, sometimes it moves weekly up and down. It’s a supply and demand object and the price rolls with the supply and demand.”
Vegetables are not sold in a futures market as corn and wheat are. Petrocco Farms sells their fresh produce directly to supermarket chains and to fresh produce distributors. “Vegetable business is very independent. There is some contracting going on with vegetables, but with a small grower\shipper like we are, that is not available to us,” said Petrocco. “We are a seasonal supplier in a seasonal growing area, and we are on the open market, although our product seems to go to many of the same customers every season, year in and year out. If you can consistently deliver a US No. 1 product that customers like, it seems to keep going.”
“The majority of our products go to supermarkets. The rest go to food services, to distributors that distribute to schools, hospitals and restaurants. We ship locally to Colorado, but also southern states, primarily Texas,” said Petrocco.
Some of the Petrocco Farms products, like Yellow Onions, are temporarily stored in large warehouses near the fields where they are harvested. During harvesting, there is a steady stream of tractors unloading carts at the warehouses. In the warehouses the onions are put on a conveyor and spread evenly over large pipes through which huge fans force fresh air. The air rising through the 12-foot high pile of onions helps preserve quality and freshness.
When the warehouse is full with onions, piled wall to wall and 12-feet high, it will contain the equivalent of over 40,000, 50-pound sacks of onions. That works out to over 2,000,000-pounds of onions in a warehouse.
“Many items are packed in the field in a container, such as plastic or cardboard and they go to Brighton for finishing. There are some items that are harvested bulk like onions,” said Petrocco. “They go into the warehouse where they are run through a machine where they are inspected, sized and graded and then they are put into some sort of container, either cardboard, plastic or nylon sack.”
Most of the green, leafy produce needs to be cooled as soon as possible to increase shelf life and present the best and safest product to the consumer. Petrocco Farms has cooling facilities at La Salle and Brighton. They use state-of-the-art water purification systems to cool their products and to make ice for any required “top- icing.”
Petrocco Farms has always been forward looking when it comes to the quality and safety of their products. “We have a food safety coordinator to instruct and test all the workers for proper handling of the vegetables. We do testing of our vegetables. They are sent to a lab and most of the customers that receive our vegetables also do their own testing,” said Petrocco.
Besides their own internal testing, training and documentation, Petrocco Farms has contracted with independent inspection and auditing firms to regularly inspect, audit and verify their practices. In 2012 they advanced their commitment to product quality and safety to an even higher level by participating in the very stringent Global Food Safety Initiative audit series. As a result of this audit, Petrocco Farms is certified by Global G.A.P. (Good Agricultural Practice).
David and the entire Petrocco family are justifiably proud of the quality and safety of the fresh produce that is grown at Petrocco Farms. “We’ve been in business for almost 100 years in Colorado and we do the best we can to produce the safest food possible. Our families, including our kids and grandchildren through the generations have always eaten our vegetables daily during the growing season. We’re confident of the work that we do.” ❖