Ernie Bontadelli passed away peacefully at his home Friday, June 22, 2018, at the age of 92. He and his brother Charles were pioneers in the Brussels sprout industry on California’s central coast.
Ernest Bontadelli was born in La Selva Beach, CA, on September 30, 1925. He continued to reside in that Santa Cruz County community for his entire life. He attended San Jose State University where he met and married his life-long spouse, Beverley, who preceded him in death in 2016. Upon graduation, he joined his brother who had been farming with their father, Earnest, in the Watsonville area. They formed Bontadelli Brothers and farmed many of the usual commodities grown in the area, from sugar beets to strawberries to cole crops, but eventually specialized in the production of Brussels sprouts in the 1970s.
In the early 1980s they partnered with Pfyffer Brothers and created Pfyffer Associates, a packing and shipping operation in Santa Cruz, which handled several area growers product in addition to their own. Mr. Bontadelli learned the ins and outs and excelled at growing artichokes in the Davenport area, north of Santa Cruz, for more than 20 years. But his primary focus was always the production and promotion of Brussels sprouts. The company was instrumental in the development of mechanized harvesting, building one of the first self-propelled harvesters in the industry.
Mr. Bontadelli was greatly involved in promoting agriculture through his various affiliations with industry groups, and was honored as the 1984 Farmer of the Year by the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau. The Bontadelli Brothers joined Western Growers in the 1950s and the firm has remained an active member ever since, marking almost 70 years with the organization. Today, the membership is held under Bontadelli Inc. The brothers and their companies were also very active members of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California.
His son, Steve, rejoined the family business in the mid-1980s, and together, the son with his father and uncle, continued to farm and develop the packing and shipping operation where Mr. Bontadelli’s influence was greatly felt throughout his life. They still farm under Bontadelli Inc. and pack and ship under the Pfyffer Associates banner, with Brussels sprouts still being their number one item.
Steve said his father loved farming, which extended to his passion for gardening and cultivating flowers at his home. “It was not unusual to find him out on a tractor, out weeding with his ever present shovel, trapping gophers and any of the other jobs that needed to be done,” he said. “He was well-respected by his work force, many of whom spent their entire work lives on the farm, with some of their children still working here.”
Steve said his father, who continued to be materially involved in the company up until his death, was amazed with the popularity that Brussels sprouts achieved. “He asked me every day what the market was,” Steve said. “And could hardly believe that it could climb to $60.”
There will be a private family service. A celebration of life is being planned for later this summer for those who wish to honor him. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Ernest and Beverley Bontadelli Memorial fund through the organization Agri-Culture in Watsonville, CA.