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Andy D'Arrigo, The Original Andy Boy

"If you have a weak stomach, go someplace else.” That’s how Andy D’Arrigo sees the industry. At first it may seem blunt and unsympathetic, but as he is a man who has seen his fair share of hardships in the business, I can’t help but heed his advice.  His demeanor is punctuated only by his tenacity to stick to the three principles that have kept the company going for three generations: Work hard, provide value, and be ethical. That’s one way to spell success in a nutshell.


“It takes a strong stomach and the willingness to work. If you’re willing to put work into it, you can make it run,” Andy tells me.


Andy isn't one to sit on his hands and wait. The original "Andy Boy" and son of the D'Arrigo Brothers Company Co-Founder, Stefano D'Arrigo (now known as Stephen), is always tinkering with something, whether it’s rebuilding model ships or overseeing the operations of a powerhouse Salinas family vegetable company.

“If you’re willing to put work into it, you can make it run.”

Before stepping into his office for our interview, I had already taken a few moments to ogle at some of the intricate wooden model ships he has built to scale and encased in glass, some of which had taken over 2,200 hours alone to complete. When I ask him what is the motivation behind putting so many hours into a single hobby, he tells me, “I have to keep my hands busy. It’s the only break you can get mentally. Taking things apart, pounding on this, rebuilding that… I’ve enjoyed the benefit of being able to take my mind off everything completely.” Admittedly, I have to admire his patience. Each of his model ships – just over twenty in total – are prominently displayed with a plaque signifying their historic importance.


Exterior view of D’Arrigo Bros. Salinas, CA officeHistory. You can find it everywhere you look inside the D’Arrigo Bros. company headquarters. With his dog, Jasmine, trotting behind him, Andy guides me through the history of the company as we walk down the hallways, stopping every moment or so to describe in full detail his family’s emigration from Sicily in Italy to Ellis Island in New York City, as well as his upbringing in the produce industry.  


In 1925, after he had arrived from the old country, Stephen, Andy’s father, had an opportunity to visit Central California. It was during a juice and wine grape buying trip in, and around, what is now known as San Jose that he noticed how similar the climate was in comparison to Messina, Sicily, his hometown in Italy. Moreover, he saw that San Jose’s Italian population was growing produce that he recognized from Messina. Items such as prickly pears, sweet anise (fennel), and broccoli were thriving in this environment.


“Being first generation Italian, my father naturally gravitated toward the areas where the Italians were living,” Andy tells me. “Knowing friends and what they were doing in their backyard – Italians always had a garden – he could see how well their vegetables grew, how the climate was so similar to that of home.”


Given the rich soil and the ideal vegetable growing climate, Stephen saw the perfect opportunity to start a business with his older brother Andrea D’Arrigo (now known as Andrew) – D’Arrigo Brothers Company. At the time, however, neither Stephen nor Andrew had much of a green thumb. Without any experience, much less any idea of what to grow, the brothers’ caught their first big break when their father packaged some broccoli seeds and mailed them direct from Italy. Soon after, Stephen and Andrew had planted 28 acres worth of their first successful broccoli crop.



Andy D’arrigo with his dog, JasmineBy 1926, the D’Arrigo brothers had already begun shipping broccoli from San Jose to Boston by rail and ended up selling their crop for a profit, subsequently helping pioneer the modern vegetable industry. In fact, Stephen is credited as the first person to make a transcontinental shipment of broccoli across the country from the West to the East Coast. With the business off to a roaring start, Stephen decided to move his family to California permanently to oversee the growing operations while Andrew stayed east in Boston to sell and market the broccoli and other vegetables. Though their business proved to be profitable up until this point thanks to steady supplies and Andrew’s entrepreneurial prowess, the brothers needed a way to differentiate their vegetables from other competing California farmers and local eastern produce. Andy, just three years old at that time, quickly made a name for himself – quite literally – when Stephen and Andrew settled upon naming their brand “Andy Boy.”


Today, D’Arrigo Bros. Co., of California farms over 35,000 acres of fresh fruit and vegetables, from classics such as broccoli, romaine hearts, lettuce, cauliflower, and artichokes, to specialty items such as nopalitos, fennel, cactus pears, and broccoli rabe.


During Andy’s spare time, he was an active Boy Scout and even served in the Navy during World War II when he was 17. After his father passed away in 1951, Andy assumed responsibilities for the West Coast operations of the company at the age of 27, and was involved with supervising seven districts over a span of 700 miles within two states. Under Andy’s leadership, D’Arrigo Bros. Co., of California became a full-service, vertically integrated produce supplier growing, packing, shipping, and marketing fresh fruit and vegetables across North America and beyond.


Andy D'Arrigo, The Original Andy Boy


Taking the company’s modest 28 acres of broccoli up to a massive 35,000 acres of leafy greens, specialty items, and cole crops wasn’t without its challenges. Andy would be the first to tell you that any good business is one that accepts the problems it may have and changes accordingly with the opportunities that it has been given. His ability to adapt to the rapid changes in this industry is part of what makes Andy so tenacious.


“One of the greatest problems we had was back in the late 70’s and early 80’s when we had double-digit inflation and you were paying 21 or 22 percent for operating capital. I found myself practically working for the bank. Every dime that made profit I had to pay them for interest,” Andy says. “We accept the problems we have and do our best to get out of them or mitigate them one way or the other and change with the opportunities that we’re given. You have to change.”


Change, for Andy, is especially important considering the advancements that have been made in technology and plant breeding in the industry since the early 20th century. “You learn by accepting what you see and asking yourself, ‘Why is that guy doing it that way?’” he tells me. “The hazards are not the market. The market is controlled by the big guy upstairs. All we can do is control our cost and quality.”   


John D’Arrigo (left) & Andy D’ArrigoAny budding produce professional or veteran can learn so much about produce from Andy. He’s attempted to grow everything you can imagine – from lettuce and broccoli to fava beans in Mexico and Texas. Some successful, some not so successful. Andy has learned a great deal from these ventures, and he’s always eager to look for opportunity. That opportunistic drive is precisely what brought Stephen to America, and you see that passed down in subsequent generations.    


Andy always returns back to what has made the company so successful despite many setbacks it may have seen throughout its 88 years of business: Work hard, provide value, and be ethical. It’s this mentality that has helped turn specialty items like broccoli rabe into mainstream produce superstars. When I ask Andy to tell me about how broccoli rabe became such a flagship product for the company, he tells me simply, “It’s the desire of the Italian people for it.”



It wasn’t until 1964 that the sharp and flavorful descendant of mustard greens officially became known as “broccoli rabe.” Since all products up to this point have been shipped by rail, the rates were controlled by the Interstate Commerce Commission. Certain commodities were billed by weight. For example, if you had 20,000 pounds of a particular product in a car, your rate would be based off that weight. There was a time when Andy was looking to ship broccoli and mustard greens out of San Jose, but the Transcontinental Freight Bureau only had a cut rate for broccoli, not mustard greens.


“I just got upset and said, ‘All right, it’s called broccoli rabe.’ Then the Transcontinental Freight Bureau tells me, ‘Oh, it’s broccoli – it takes the same 25 pound weight,” Andy smiles. “That is where the name ‘broccoli rabe’ was born.”

“The market is controlled by the big guy upstairs. All we can do is control our cost and quality.”

From then on, the name “broccoli rabe” stuck and the item quickly became one of D’Arrigo Bros.’ crown jewels, thanks to its robust superfood-esque qualities. Broccoli rabe contains over 20 vitamins (most notably Vitamins A, C, K) and minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium), fiber (leads to decreased hunger), phytochemicals (compounds in the body which are well established cancer fighting agents), and antioxidants.


Even at 91 years old, it’s difficult to keep Andy away from his desk at the office and away from the fields. It’s easy to tell he takes pleasure in his work, enjoys giving back, and loves the business even more.


“I’ve been blessed with good health and I’ve been blessed with a lot of good luck. I’m thankful for the industry I’m in. It’s been very, very good to me,” he says. “I try to give something back.”


Nevertheless, he still finds time to continue building his model ships or go fishing. After all, he says with a laugh, “Time spent fishing is not deducted from man’s allotted time on earth.”


Known as an industry leader, pioneer, and, of course, a hard worker, Andy has proven himself to be a true produce innovator. His generosity, time spent in the industry, and accomplishments are sure to be remembered and honored for generations to come. For many in the industry, Andy’s integrity and meticulous spirit has been a source of inspiration. After coming to understand what his father and his uncle have started and what he has been able to carry out since then, I’m sure we can all be certain that this family business still remains in safe hands as John D’Arrigo, Andy’s son, continues his position as President, CEO and Chairman of the Board of the company.


Looking back on our conversation, it’s easy to see why his advice to many in the industry is to have a strong stomach. He’s seen it all. But in spite of the challenges he’s seen, he perseveres and adapts. That’s the mark of a produce visionary.