gmhTODAY 09 gmhToday July Aug 2016 - Page 58

SOUTH SANTA CLARA VALLEY’S AG CULTURE Farm to Table Written & Photographed By Robin Shepherd H ere in South County we owe it to ourselves to understand agriculture’s vital role in our quality of life today and in the future. What better way than to talk with the farmers and ranchers whose families have, for generations, cultivated one of the best ag regions in California? Once known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight, Santa Clara County has seen 45 percent of its agricultural land converted to other uses between 1984 and 2000. According to a 2013 report by the Santa Clara County Food System Alliance (SCCFSA), 55 percent of the County’s remaining farmland is at risk of development.** While agriculture con- tinues to make use of new technology and farming techniques, and to achieve increases in productivity per unit worker and per unit of land, there are tough challenges to overcome. South County is home to many dedicated and talented ag industry professionals who run businesses large and small. They are active in industry and community affairs through the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau, the Western Growers Association, working committees 58 of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, and other groups. And they are generous supporters of education and career opportunities for the next generation of farmers through donated scholarships and support of FFA programs at local schools. Over the years they have donated gener- ously to the Second Harvest Food Bank and St. Joseph’s Table as well as shelters and other organizations with programs to feed the hungry. Recently, TODAY had the opportunity to meet with some of these good people. A common thread runs through their stories. gmh Uesugi Farms Joe Aiello and his son Pete welcomed the opportunity to provide a tour of their farming operations, and Joe started things off with a little family history. “My grandfather worked in the produce industry before the Great Depression of the 1930s,” Joe said. “He helped launch the Contadina label at a cannery back east in Highlands, New York. I grew up in Santa Clara County, spent a few summers doing farm work as a teenager, and graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in agriculture. In the early 1970s I started GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN JULY / AUGUST 2016 growing sweet corn in Morgan Hill. I spent several years working with George Uesugi, who had about 130 acres of strawberries and chili peppers in Morgan Hill at the time. From there, I became a foreman for a large operation known as the Newhall Land & Farming Company. In 1980, George offered to sell his farm to me and my business partner Dennis Humphrey. We kept the Uesugi Farms name as a tribute to George.” According to Pete Aiello, “Dad eventually bought out Dennis’ share of the business. He worked hard and had the courage to take calculated risks to grow the business over time. Today our farming operations span 5,000 acres. We operate in eight California counties and also work with growers in Mexico and partners in Arizona. Peppers are our biggest crop including more than 20 varieties of bell and hot peppers. We also grow Napa cabbage, sweet corn, strawberries, pumpkins, beans and other crops. We move tens of thousands of tons of produce items annually.” The Aiellos are not only growers, but buyers, consolidators and sellers who partner with growers and food