"I like to consider myself a produce-loving journalist turned marketer.”
As I open my notes and begin to conceptualize and conceive this story for Crystal Chavez, these are the first words of hers on which I reflect. It is like a vision coming into focus. This is one of those moments where you suddenly feel a cliché coming on. Then, you stop, and remember that Robert Frost could never be a cliché.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…
Oh, how often we have framed such narratives and dramas across time and cultures—the dilemma of the road less traveled, the roads that diverged in a wood, the great existential crisis that puts some of us on our heels. For others, it strengthens their resolve, primes them for the unknown, and brings clarity over obscurity. Those like Crystal of Gold Coast Packing.
“Before joining the produce industry, I was a news producer and reporter for six years. I loved the news industry, but when the station in Santa Maria, California, was sold, I had to find a new job,” Crystal shares with me, adding that Santa Maria is her home and the idea of moving back to Los Angeles, where she had gone to school, did not immediately spark inspiration. “So, I turned to the produce industry.”
Crystal’s husband comes from a large family of strawberry growers—there is that path again, but she is far from veering off course.
“I made a call to some cousins, and I got my first job in produce as sales support at Better Produce in 2012. The team at Better Produce was patient with me and taught me so much about the industry. With my journalism background in tow, I asked a million questions, absorbing as much as I could in my first few months. I wore several hats in this role, taking on payroll, accounting, and running the company’s H-2A program,” the up-and-comer tells me.
“Being able to be a part of the industry that feeds America and the world is just the cherry on top of my love of food and cooking.”
Crystal Chavez, Marketing Coordinator, Gold Coast Packing
She embraced it. That passion you see on the trade show floor and that energy that shoots like an arrow to light up any target on the road ahead—that is all Crystal and the deep love she has for the produce industry. Crystal has a fierce drive and fire that emerges in the face of groundlessness and an unpaved road—a characteristic that comes through in her tenacity and perseverance in a distinct industry with unparalleled nuances.
“Produce is such a unique trade to be a part of. It spans the globe, but it feels like such a small community. I have met some amazing and talented people and built truly strong relationships. Being able to have someone else you can bounce ideas off of or someone you can get advice from is such an incredible resource. Growing as a person and constantly learning is something that is very important to me,” Crystal reflects. “I love that I am able to develop new skills and thought processes, as well as challenge myself while representing Gold Coast. And I love the produce industry for the obvious reason that I love food—how it brings people together and allows us all to be unique in preparing the same vegetable. It spans back to our roots from our family and our culture. Being able to be a part of the industry that feeds America and the world is just the cherry on top of my love of food and cooking.”
With a healthy introduction to fresh produce on the table, Crystal decided to grow her beginnings and polish her expertise in 2017, joining the Gold Coast family as Marketing Coordinator. As she peered down that lengthy path with no guideposts or familiar territory to beckon her along, Crystal could easily have fallen back into the comfort of a road well-traveled. But, she did not.
“I was so excited to make the move because this position aligned more with my journalism background, and I was excited to join a company with a large product portfolio,” Crystal expresses. “What really makes Gold Coast different and an incredible place to work is our ownership. Our two Owners, Ron Burk and Bob Espinola, are very involved in the day-to-day operations. As an employee, it is rare when you can contact an owner every day. Ron and Bob give each of us the ability to share ideas, ranging from new products to our annual strategic plan.”
Crystal adds that it is also not often that a company and its Owners allow each of its employees to have a seat at the table for a discussion on how to move forward—conversations that most companies would only allow senior management to be a part of. Gold Coast invites all employees to take part and share ideas.
An industry stalwart, Gold Coast is a small company that was founded in 1978 by the two long-time friends, Ron and Bob, in the Santa Maria Valley, nestled on the beautiful Central Coast of California—hence the name. As the two partners found their footing and set out on the road ahead, they could not have known that such growth lay waiting down the path or that such good fortune would wind their way as they mapped the topography of their journey—those surprises that await in the undergrowth.
Today, Gold Coast partners with other growing operations locally and processes everything from broccoli and Brussels sprouts to cauliflower and kale. Through its state-of-the-art processing plant, Fresh Venture Foods, which Gold Coast co-owns with Babé Farms, the company offers more value and vision than many of its ilk.
“That close friendship that our Owners have is a reflection of how we build our relationships with our customers. In the more than 40 years we have been doing business, Gold Coast has built very strong relationships and friendships with many of our customers, most of which span more than 20 years,” Crystal shares. “These great bonds are created because we are always willing to work with our customers and meet their needs. Since we own a production facility, we can conduct a lot of trials and testing for each customer’s specifications. Due to our smaller company size, we are able to have a quick turn-around on our customer requests. There are so many things to love about Gold Coast.”
“These great bonds are created because we are always willing to work with our customers and meet their needs.”
Considering many of us may spend half of our waking lives or more in our profession, it comes as a comfort to know that we can love what we do every day. This is something that Crystal holds dear, and it makes for a much better motivator in the early mornings of fresh produce than an alarm clock.
“Knowing that I get to work with such a talented and hilarious group of people makes me want to come into work every day. We work so well together that most days, it doesn’t even feel like work,” she says. “Our team is a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Our younger generation in the office has such great ideas to keep us growing and innovating.”
Take Natali Carrillo, on Gold Coast’s sales team and one of the youngest in the office, for example.
“Natali has taught me so much, even if I am 10 years her senior! I admire her spicy attitude, her ability to chat up anyone, and her drive to push herself and our team for more. I bounce a lot of ideas her way, and she can be brutally honest, which challenges me to get her to say, ‘Yes, I love it,’” she reflects. “Every day, I look forward to my time in the office with our team, as they drive my passion for helping us grow and develop innovative products, along with helping our community.”
Gold Coast has been a source of growth for Crystal, allowing her to create programs that benefit the community and, more importantly, those most in need throughout the Santa Maria Valley. The company’s Fantastic Fridays program is one initiative that the team created to grow its local outreach. During the school year (before COVID-19), the team would visit elementary schools within the Valley and share veggie trivia. Educating the kids on various produce items and what is being grown in the fields around their community is just one amazing way that Crystal and the Gold Coast team give back.
“Being able to share our produce knowledge with these young minds helps them choose fresh and develop a love for vegetables,” Crystal shares, explaining that each child is also given fresh produce to take home. Getting fresh vegetables into kids’ hands right before the weekend ensures the fresh produce is shared with their family at home.
Crystal could wax poetic about produce all day, and this story is more than just a story for her. It is a way to breathe all her passions to life.
For now, I will pick up the pen for her while her life does the writing.