2013 California Family Business Award Winner
Excerpt from The Business Journal
Success in the soil: Stamoules Produce Co. wins 2013 California Family Business Award
By Chuck Harvey
A long history of hard work and self-sufficiency has helped lead Stamoules Produce Co.’s four generations of family farm owner-operators to a successful enterprise. The Stefanopoulos family, including Pagona (Peggy) Stefanopoulos, president; Anthanasios (Tom) Stefanopoulos, vice president, and officers Dionysos (Danny) Stefanopoulos, Spero Stefanopoulos and Elena Stefanopoulos, run the Mendota-area diversified farming operation that includes production, marketing and shipping of cantaloupes, honeydew melons, green bell peppers, sweet corn, broccoli and pistachios.
Product is sold throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. The farm company started as a producer of cantaloupes and cotton. But in the 1980s its ownership decided to diversify into other crops.
The owners run the company, each being an officer in the corporation with equal votes. The core belief of the company is that it is successful because everyone continually reinvests their talents and resources back into the company.
The ownership is actively involved in the farming operation. The company is operated on the notion that if you can contract someone to do something for you, you can probably do it yourself better and at a cost savings. For an example, many farmers depend on labor contractors for weeding and harvesting.
Stamoules Produce hires, supervises and directly pays its own crews to do the jobs. The company owns all of its tractors, sprayers, tillers and vehicles. It has a large maintenance shop capable of maintaining and repairing its most technically advanced tractors and farm implements. Nearly all of its harvest equipment is designed and manufactured on site by Stamoules Produce employees. Also, to maximize efficiency and minimize cost, Stamoules Produce has centralized all of its operations in close proximity to its headquarters. The company has its own marketing team housed on site so team members can observe and help control product quality and shipping.
An important innovation Stamoules Produce adopted is field packing. It makes it possible to grade, cull and pack right in the field of harvest. That helped save money and streamline operations. Other innovations include development of better seed varieties; precision planting, which includes proper seed depth and spacing; pre-irrigation of fields and use of drip irrigation. Forced air-cooling replaced hydro cooling and helped to minimize introduction of water borne pathogens. Also, Stamoules Produce installed a series of pipelines from its farm wells to ensure that the entire crop is irrigated, even in times of drought.
The size of the operation and its use of modern technologies are in sharp contrast to the early days of Stamoules Produce. But the tenacity and work ethic of its current owners reflect of the company’s beginnings initiated by a Greek immigrant named Speros Stamoules. Stamoules came to this country as a teenager in 1903 in search of his dream of becoming all of what American freedom makes possible. He worked as a food server in a hotel in New York City upon his arrival in America and sought to become a farmer one day and grow the very food items he served hotel guests
Stamoules saved his money and the seeds of some of the cantaloupes he served in anticipation of planting them on a farm of his own one day. After working for several years in New York, he ventured west and wound up in San Francisco, where he worked for a number of years as a fruit merchant. When World War I started, he moved back to Greece to support the war effort.
In 1921 he married his wife, Helen, and in 1925 they moved back to the Bay Area, where he continued in the fruit business, doing some farming near Turlock. By 1927 he had accumulated enough money to purchase a small farm near Mendota and so began Stamoules Produce Company.
Times were not easy back then and soon things got even worse as the Great Depression turned the economy upside down. Without hesitation, Stamoules forged on selling his produce at farmer’s markets and even door-to-door. As time passed, the farm grew and eventually the company had sufficient product to sell to neighboring states and even to the East Coast.
“Stamoules never dreamed we would be talking about him,” said Tom Stefanopoulos, also a Greek immigrant. “He was the first one to grow cantaloupes on the Westside. We maintain his legacy.”
In 1943, Helen and Speros adopted a daughter who they named Pagona (Peggy) and so came forth the start of the second generation of the family farm. In mid 1944, Stamoules accompanied a rail carload of cantaloupes to New York City and while there, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. That left his wife with a 13 month-old-daughter to care for and a company to run — a challenge she had not expected.
Helen Stamoules, with the help of loyal employees, continued on with the farm and the packing operation, which grew to about 2000 acres by the early 1960s. She was active in the business until her death in 1991 at the age of 85.
Peggy Stamoules married Tom Stefanopoulos in 1966, and by 1976 they had two sons and a daughter and that was the start of the third generation of the family farm. By the beginning of 2013 the family farm has grown to nearly 18,000 acres and already three members of the fourth generation are already working and part of plans for the future.
Tom and Peggy head the family operation with the help of their three adult children and some 2,000 employees at the peak of harvest.
Photo: Pagona (Peggy) Stefanopoulos, president, and Anthanasios (Tom) Stefanopoulos, vice president of Stamoules Produce Co., stand proudly in the center of the photo, flanked by younger family members. From left to right: Spero, baby Alexa (8 months), Lauren (Spero's wife), Peggy, Tom, Elena, Danny and the twins Ava and Aydon each 7 yrs old (Danny's children) All last names Stefanopoulos. The family, now in its fourth generation, farms 18,000 acres of fruits, vegetables and pistachios in the Mendota area.
2013 Family Business Award Finalists
- Dewar Family - Dewar's Candy Shop (Bakersfield)
- Mathews Family - Mathew's Harely Davidson
- Horstmann Financial Services and Insurance Services
- Simonian Family - Simonian Farms
- Tosi Farmily - Bruno's Iron & Metal