By Ashley Nickle
Jeff Huckaby, president of Bakersfield, Calif.-based Grimmway Farms (and member of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture), received The Packer’s Produce Man of the Year award June 10 at the United Fresh Produce Association conference and expo.
“Jeff is just a tremendous choice for the Packer award this year,” said United Fresh president Tom Stenzel. “He’s been such a leader in our industry. He’s a quiet leader. Not a lot of people outside the company or his customers know him … I’ve been able to work with Jeff on our board of directors, and very thoughtful, he brings an industry perspective to issues, but he’s always looking ahead, and that’s something that I think is great for the Packer to honor,” Stenzel said.
The Packer’s editor-in-chief Tom Karst presented the award to Huckaby and shared in his address the following comment from a buyer who works with Grimmway. The company is known for its carrots but also markets more than 50,000 acres of organic vegetables under the Cal-Organic brand.
“What I like and respect about Jeff is he backs up what he says he will do,” the buyer said. “Everything we get from Grimmway is top quality or he will not send it. In our initial meetings when we were expanding organics we talked about if it’s not right don’t send it.
“He will be the first one to call and say it’s not right and this is how long it will take before it is right,” the buyer said. “I wish every vendor partner would be like Jeff.”
Laura Batcha, CEO and president of the Organic Trade Association, praised Huckaby’s work developing programs with major retailers and described him as a visionary and ambassador for organic.
“He is a generous and informed educator of organic, speaking at conferences like ours throughout the year, conducting hundreds of farm tours for produce buyers, college deans and government officials – including the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture – to educate them on large-scale organic farming.
“He gives his time to supporting trade associations, sits on advisory boards representing organic, and regularly lends his voice and his influence to supporting organic and environmentally sustainable issues,” Batcha said.
U.S. agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue also offered an endorsement of Huckaby.
“Jeff Huckaby is a true leader helping American agriculture feed the world,” Perdue said. “I appreciate his invaluable insights and assistance and admire Grimmway Farms for its dedication to provide good value, consistent quality and dependable service to fulfill customers’ needs.
“I’ve had a chance to visit multiple Grimmway facilities and I know it’s a company with good moral values – they truly are salt-of-the-earth people,” Perdue said. “All of us at USDA admire Jeff’s storied career and hard work to become the number one organic producer in the country. Congratulations Jeff, on being named Produce Man of the Year. I cannot think of anyone more deserving than yourself.”
Huckaby is a member of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee, the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, the United Fresh board of directors and the College of Agriculture Advisory Council at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
“It’s interesting the fact that he’s built such a relationship with the USDA secretary,” Stenzel said. “I don’t remember in any of the past awards where the secretary of agriculture actually sends in a note and says I want to help honor Jeff, so that was a great sign, I think, of his ability to represent our industry on a national level.”