Rick Lester Antle, president and CEO of Tanimura & Antle, the largest lettuce and vegetable producer in the Salinas Valley, died after a brief battle with cancer on Saturday, April 14. He was 61.
Mr. Antle was born on December 15, 1956, in Salinas, CA. He grew up in the family business as the grandson of vegetable pioneer Bud Antle and son of the equally-imposing Bob Antle. He began his career at Bud Antle Inc., in the 1970s, and launched Tanimura & Antle with his father and brother and the Tanimura family in 1982. That continued a tradition of the Antles selling the crops that the Tanimuras grow dating back to 1949. Together the two families built a powerful and innovative company with Rick Antle taking a lead role in guiding the course for the past three decades.
Over the past 35 years, T&A has been every bit the industry leader that its predecessor Bud Antle Inc. was. It has been involved in all aspects of the industry and is the largest grower-shipper in the commodity business. He also led the company into many different innovative areas of the industry as it currently has a greenhouse, artisan lettuce operation in Tennessee and is greatly increasing its presence in the organic sector.
His latest achievements include the development of a housing project that provides homes for 800 farmworker employees at Spreckels Crossing. Additionally, he spearheaded the transition to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), which gives employees the chance to be part owners. Mr. Antle was fond of introducing new technologies and systems into the industry and never lost sight of its essential elements—customers, growers and employees. One of his proudest personal accomplishments was working alongside his sons Brian and Jeff. He constantly challenged his team to provide innovative solutions, even when the ideas were against conventional practice. He believed that creative solutions made Tanimura & Antle the nation’s premier independent produce grower, shipper, and distributor.
Mr. Antle was the embodiment of the phrase “larger than life” with a very big personality. Those close to him say he had an even bigger heart. He loved and absolutely mastered the art of adventure—on the mountain, the water, the air, and of course on the farm. Skiing, boating, flying and farming took up most of his life, but people always came first. Family, employees and friends regularly describe him as a fun-loving, work-hard-and-play-harder kind of guy. He was thoughtful, magnanimous and a respected mentor.
Mr. Antle served in many leadership positions within the Tanimura & Antle family of companies, charities, and community organizations. He was formerly the chairman of Monterey County Water Resources Agency. He also served on numerous boards including Pacific Ag Rentals, Iceberg Lettuce Research Board, United Fresh Produce Association, Earthbound Farm LLC, Ready Pac Produce Inc., Dulcinea Farms LLC, and the Cal Poly College of Agriculture Advisory Council.
He was the recipient of many industry awards and recognitions, including The United Fresh Produce Association 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award along with his wife, Tonya, The Packer 2005 Produce Man of the Year, and Cal Poly 1994 Department of Agriculture Distinguished Alumnus. He was also recognized by the Salinas Chamber of Commerce as its outstanding young farmer.
In 2001, Rick married his soulmate Tonya and they spent the last 17 years enjoying boating, traveling the world and their family. He adored his children and grandchildren and was proud of their many accomplishments.
He is survived by his beloved wife, Tonya Antle; his mom, Sue Antle; his sons, Brian (Amanda) Antle, Jeff Antle, and Anthony Pavich; his daughter, Natalie (Eric) Drobny, and grandchildren, Cameron and Spencer Antle. He is also survived by his siblings and many nieces and nephews.
A Celebration of Life Ceremony was held at the Tanimura & Antle headquarters in late April. In lieu of customary remembrances, the family requests that donations be made directly to The Rick & Tonya Antle Community Foundation Fund (www.cfmco.org/AntleFund) to support Mr. Antle’s favorite charities.