Employee Spotlight: 10 Things to Know About Art Munoz, Harvesting Commodity Manager
"Leaf" it to Art Munoz, Harvesting Commodity Manager to tell us about Ocean Mist Farms' Gold Standard of Mix Leaf & Romaine Lettuce. He will surprise you with details on what it takes to manage such a healthy and nutritious vegetable, as well as give you some insight into his personal life. Keep reading to learn more about Art!
1. How did you get started at Ocean Mist Farms and what is your current position?
It all started back in 1987 when my dad was working for Valley Pride, a harvesting company affiliated with Ocean Mist Farms. There were only 12 people on the harvesting crew and the need for people was intense, so my father asked the field foreman if he could hire me. I got hired and my first job was harvesting spinach. Spinach is one of the hardest commodities to harvest, because you are on your knees for the entire day! After doing that for five years, I became a field foreman for the fennel commodity crew. In 1995 I moved over to Ocean Mist Farms as a Q.A. Inspector and a few years later I was offered an open position as a Harvest Commodity Manager. Today, 35 years later, I am managing both the conventional and organic leaf programs that include Romaine Lettuce, Mix Lettuce, and Romaine Hearts.
2. What does your day-to-day work life look like?
Imagine this… I start my days early in the morning. First on my list of to-dos is to check in with the head field supervisor about packing the day's sales orders. I then follow up with the sales team for any changes or new orders. Each Monday is when I walk all the fields to record harvest estimates based on how the plants are growing. This covers about 20-25 blocks which is equivalent to 110 acres of fields, to make sure we are on track for estimated quality and volume. I also work with our customer's field inspectors guiding them to the right fields for them to take a look at before harvest. Weekly, I check with each harvest crews to make sure they are packing to Ocean Mist Farms quality specifications. Altogether, I over see an average of 90-100 blocks weekly to make sure plants are growing as expected and production volumes are estimated correctly. Lastly, one of the most crucial day-to-day responsibilities is to forecast crop estimates 4-5 weeks out, this is needed to plan for future sales.
3. What are some challenges in the role you take at Ocean Mist Farms?
The biggest challenges are a function of Mother Nature, who can be fickle! Weather is key in our business. If it is too hot, lettuce grows faster than normal, and if it is too cold, it grows slower. Mid-summer can be very challenging because romaine grows very fast and tender due to longer days. This causes a thin texture on the lettuce that can make it burn easily impacting quality. If the temperature drops below 30 degrees, harvest is delayed for the day and the leaves will frost. Besides temperature, wind will dry out the soil that causes what we call "fringe burn" on the outer leaves. To help combat these challenges as much as possible, we are very vigilant about keeping an eye on the weather and close contact with the sales team, to set expectations with our customers, and to meet Ocean Mist Farms' high quality standards.
4. As a Harvesting Commodity Manager you manage and specialize in many crops, what are the first steps in growing an Ocean Mist Farms Gold Standard veggie?
Everything starts with the seed varieties that we select based on growing region and conditions. Next it is preparing the soil for the seed. It is crucial that we maintain a healthy soil base by properly watering and thinning. Throughout the growth cycle, we monitor pest and disease pressures and address those as needed using targeted application of materials. Daily monitoring each crop block during the growth cycle is necessary to make sure that we harvest on the most optimal day to pack fresh leaf lettuce to Ocean Mist Farms high standards.
5. Do you travel to other growing regions when the crop season ends here in Castroville, CA?
Yes, every year! My home base is the Salinas Valley. By late September, I would travel to Oxnard, CA, and manage that growing region. By mid-October, I travel to Coachella, CA for 4 months, and by mid-March, I return to the Salinas Valley. For growing efficiencies and quality, it is important that we move our production to the ideal land & locations throughout California.
6. What are a few fun facts about working in the Mix Leaf & Romaine fields?
It’s amazing how there are many facts to be told about mix leaf and romaine lettuce. Here are a few that might make you go😮!
Our harvesting crew sizes are 28 to 33 people per crew. We have two separate harvesting crews cutting the Mix Leaf and Romaine Lettuce fields while 3 crews are cutting Romaine Hearts and one crew on the Organic field.
- Harvesting crews work and average of 6-10 hours daily, 6 days a week.
- Harvesting crews on the Mix Leaf and Romaine fields pack about 300 cases per hour.
- Romaine Hearts harvesting crews pack about 270 cases of bagged Romaine Hearts per hour.
7. What three words best describe your role?
Trust, Transparency, and Responsibility
8. If you could go back in time, what would you change about yourself?
I would go back to when I was a kid and focus more on school to achieve a higher level of education and experience. 📚
9. How do you spend your free time?
During my free time, I like watching the Squid Game series on Netflix. It’s a chilling series about survival. I also take advantage and spend the majority of the time with my family enjoying our time at the park.
10. If you were a vegetable, what would you be and why?