Coke Farm's Ernesto Soto and Adele Gemignani Discuss Organic Vision, Expansion, Mentorship, and Leadership
SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, CA - I smile when Ernesto Soto, Grower Manager for Coke Farm, shares these words with me: The company’s secret sauce is made of the passionate people and the products they offer. If there is one thing I have learned about the organic-only hub, Coke Farm, it’s that one of these elements does not thrive without a deep care and concern for the other. It’s symbiotic. And in an industry where people evoke passion, I found myself incredibly energized as I wrote this story.
“At Coke Farm, everyone supports each other. We are comprised of 85-plus differently sized farming families, together representing one remarkably unique, complex, and rewarding business model that cannot be boxed in or defined as a broker,” Ernesto shares. “We give customers access to a one-stop shop, while promoting a grower market that otherwise wouldn’t exist.”
Coke Farm’s mission and goal are to cultivate and support future organic farmers. The company provides crop planning and program development tailored to each grower’s location, climate, and farm size to ensure their growers have optimal market access and successful crops. Each grower receives the same care and attention—whether they grow on a half-acre of land or 60 acres—thus, helping them fulfill their farming dreams, increase their production, and develop a steady income to support their family.
Coke Farm has a strong alignment with the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) as well, a non-profit focused on helping low-income growers establish their farms. The two companies share a similar mission, and many Coke Farm growers are ALBA graduates.
“Grower mentorship and relationships are the Coke Farm vision and have been for 40 years. Christine Coke’s genuine spirit is to love and help people. An early grower base saw it, which played a heavy influence in evolving our company further,” Ernesto expresses, adding that Christine is the wife of Founder Dale Coke—who is himself a fifth-generation farmer. “Supporting future generations is so important. It’s so expensive to lease or own land and pay for water, labor, and packaging, and it is hard work to line up the proper channels to take it from seed to sale. Coke Farm provides the hand of a caring partner.”
Part of Coke Farm’s commitment to strategic planning and providing essential resources to its grower partners is its centralized cooler operation in San Juan Bautista, California, which was recently expanded to double storage capacity.
“One very unique aspect of Coke Farm is our entire staff is onsite at the cooler. We are very ‘hands-on,’ with sales, quality assurance (QA), and grower management collaborating daily,” shares Adele Gemignani, Sales and Business Development. “Since we have our own cooler and operations team, we are able to expand as needed and offer transportation, custom packs, and food programs. The sales staff windows face the receiving yard, and the quality assurance team is in sync with the rest of the team. All produce is accounted for, with our QA team inspecting and taking pictures of each item as it arrives, and our sales team appointed to ‘sell every bit and piece of the farm,’ for both our growers’ and customers’ benefit."
With demand only accelerating, Coke Farm’s increased storage capacity means more consolidation opportunities and continued growth.
“The success stories we support lift us up,” Adele adds. “We feel good every day about our decisions and ourselves, but it’s even bigger than that. We’re on the same team as the growers, and we also take good care of, and have the support of, our customers. And with our 2nd-year desert program just around the corner, we’re excited to continue offering a steady supply of year-round organic core crops.”
And that, my friends, is a little of Coke Farm’s special sauce.