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Mentors in the Making: Chris Drew

"When I was fifteen years old, I had the opportunity to travel to my grandfather’s corn and soybean farm in Central Illinois. I’d never actually felt the soil under my feet until one cold day in November,” Chris Drew, Vice President of Operations at Ocean Mist Farms, smiles and says as we dive into his first true experience of agriculture.

Hook, line, and sinker—Chris was caught.

From that point forward, it was Chris’ quest to pursue a career in agriculture. A quest, you may ask? Yes. Once Chris had decided on his path, there was no stopping the up-and-comer from finding his place at the table.

“With much persistence over the course of my remaining high school years, I convinced my dad that agriculture was the direction I wanted to focus my career path,” Chris says.

At the age of eighteen, he began his career at Headstart Nursery as a general laborer and quickly learned the value of hard work and understood that if he was going to continue a career in agriculture, he was going to have to understand each component of the business, from field to fork. After earning his degree in Crop Science from California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo, Chris was offered full-time employment with Headstart before moving to Coachella Valley in California to help manage the company’s facilities.

“I jumped at the opportunity. While working in the Coachella Valley, I became familiar with Ocean Mist Farms and its dedication to growing the highest-quality fresh vegetables possible. I was tantalized by the company’s dedication to detail throughout the supply chain,” he reflects. “In 2004, I joined one of Ocean Mist Farm’s production affiliates, Sea Mist Farms, based in Castroville, California. It was here where I began to learn the ins and outs of production agriculture.”

Over the course of the next 12 years, Chris learned each step of the production process, from groundwork and planting to irrigation and harvesting. Two years ago, Chris took a step to the post-harvest side of the business as the Vice President of Operations.

There is no such thing as luck. Luck should be defined as when good preparation and opportunity meet. Pay attention to the details—opportunity lies behind the smallest details. And if you don’t make a mistake every now and again, you’re not trying hard enough—just don’t make the same mistake twice.

— Chris Drew, VP of Operations, Ocean Mist Farms

“I have always had the philosophy that we could be amongst the best growers in the world. Our retail and foodservice partners deserve the highest level of customer service and support every day,” he adds.

In addition to his recent accomplishments, Chris is also a graduate of the 17-month California Agricultural Leadership Program (CALP), Class 47.

Chris has been very fortunate to work with many people who have helped him throughout his career. Among whom are his father Don Drew; as well as Ed Boutonnet, Chairman of the Board, Ocean Mist Farms; and Dr. Wyatt Brown, Professor/Assistant Department Head, Horticulture and Crop Science, California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo.

“My dad, Don, instilled a strong work ethic in me at a young age—always cognizant of idle hands,” Chris laughs and says. “He taught me the phrase ‘It is very difficult to supervise a job you don’t know how to do.’ This has stuck with me throughout my career. I am very inquisitive and want to know exactly how and why things work the way they do. He reminds me to this day to always remember where my roots are, recognize and recall the people who helped me grow throughout my career, and treat people with respect and dignity.”

With that same great respect and admiration he was taught, Chris speaks to me about Ed Boutonnet, starting with a few words of wisdom that Ed has shared with Chris over the years.

“There is no such thing as luck. Luck should be defined as when good preparation and opportunity meet. Pay attention to the details—opportunity lies behind the smallest details. And if you don’t make a mistake every now and again, you’re not trying hard enough—just don’t make the same mistake twice,” Chris reminisces about the impact Ed has had on his life and career. He adds that Ed has always been available to share his past industry experiences and provide insight and different viewpoints.

“It is very difficult to head into the future without understanding the past. You need to know where you have been to get where you are going. I admire Ed’s demand for excellence. Excellence, and the desire to achieve it, defines our culture at Ocean Mist Farms,” he says.

As for Dr. Wyatt Brown, he was Chris’ academic advisor while attending Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo.

“I admire Dr. Brown for his patience and perseverance to see the full potential in his students. His job did not end when we finished his class or when he went home for the day,” Chris shares. “As an advisee, I believe Dr. Brown had a keen sense of my comfort zone and would push me toward the more difficult path of curriculum as opposed to the smooth one. He understood how to build character and knowledge in those who would take the time to listen. He would tell me, ‘Apply yourself, understand your full potential, nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it, and work hard to achieve your goal.’”

Cris concludes by telling me that he is incredibly gracious for each of his mentors support and is forever indebted to them for the knowledge that they have shared.

 

Don Drew, Chris Drew's FatherWhen Chris was born on February 27, 1976, the nurse wrapped him in a blanket and put him in a warmer next to my wife, Barbara, and me. As we watched him in his first minutes of life he managed to escape the wrapped blanket...twice. We thought, ‘This kid really wants to explore and not be confined.’ We always stressed the necessity to maintain a strong work ethic as Chris learned to balance work and play, because Chris really liked to play. It wasn’t until we went to Illinois, where my dad had a farm, that he fell in love with farming and said, ‘I want to live here.’ Back at home, a former student of mine had a transplant company in Gilroy, California, and gave Chris a job, but said he would not like it. The first day, Chris was throwing trays of transplants and called me and said, ‘Dad, I have never worked so hard in my life, and I loved it.’ Starting with the day he was born to now, with Chris working in management at Ocean Mist Farms, he has strived to have a good work ethic—respecting and rewarding people who do a good job, as success is earned and not given.

Ed Boutonnet, Chairman of the Board, Ocean Mist FarmsI have known Chris since 2002 and have worked with him ever since he joined Sea Mist Farms in 2004 as the Production Manager. In 2014, Chris accepted the position of Vice President of Operations at Ocean Mist Farms with duties that encompass directing activities associated with the post-harvest of products; managing the cooling and shipping facilities; overseeing food safety, quality assurance, sustainability, and value-added operations; and directing new product and service innovation. Chris is highly-motivated and driven by an amazing passion to succeed. He not only improves his own capacity by constantly challenging it, but implements remarkable positive changes in his surroundings as well. Chris possesses a humble personality and strong sense of values and work ethic. He is highly-respected by coworkers for his willingness to help others anytime. He is well-organized, diligent in his paperwork, easily-reachable, and always punctual. Chris is a take-charge person who presents creative ideas and communicates the benefits. He is a critical, yet rational, thinker, with a team approach to solving complex problems. Chris possesses leadership and intellectual acumen and is a product expert with the proficiency to interact with customers.

Dr. Wyatt Brown Professor / Assistant Department Head, Horticulture and Crop Science, California Polytechnic State University – San Luis ObispoI met Chris Drew in 1996 when he was a freshman in the, then, Crop Science Department at Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo. I found him very personable, very intelligent, but, at that time, trying to find his focus. I told Chris that you only get out as much as you put in. To my pleasant surprise, Chris approached me about doing a senior project, and we worked together on a broccoli/romaine storage study. He really got into the process and did excellent work. He doesn’t know it, but I’ve returned numerous times to his project as a reference for the techniques we developed and as an illustration to other students on how to conduct and write up an excellent project. Chris has gone on to a stellar career, and I couldn’t be prouder. Before becoming the VP of Operations at Ocean Mist Farms, he successfully managed 5,000 acres of vegetables, which is a very difficult task. He’s worked very hard, been dependable and diligent, embraced learning, and has been rewarded for his efforts.