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September 23, 2021

Soulmates: Power Couples Running the Farm

By Stephanie Metzinger

In an industry that has historically embodied family values, couple-owned enterprises bring a unique, homegrown aspect to agriculture.

Family-owned businesses currently account for 64 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, with husband-wife teams running an estimated 1.2 million companies. These dynamic duos have led organizations and companies that have triumphed over challenges time and time again largely due to their founders’ iron-clad bonds and strong family commitment.

In U.S. agriculture specifically, where 98 percent of America’s 2.2 million farms are family-owned and operated, these power couples have built well-rounded farming companies that equally balance economic and operational expertise with cultural and equitable competence.

Though there are countless husband-wife dream teams across the nation, here is a look at some throughout Western Growers membership.

Alexandra & Paul Allen

Company: Main Street Produce/Freshway Farms

Location: Santa Maria, California

For Alexandra Allen, a chance visit to an old elementary school friend forever changed her life.

“Paul and I met when I came to Santa Maria to spend a weekend with my best friend from second grade, who I had not seen in many years,” she said. Alexandra and Paul married two years after their encounter, and not long after, their fruitful business partnership began.

Together, they operate Main Street Produce, a cooler, shipper and marketing company; Freshway Farms, a strawberry and vegetable farming company; and Fresh Valley Harvesting, a farm labor contracting company. While Paul’s focus is generally on Main Street Produce and marketing their product, Alexandra puts most of her energy into Freshway Farms as compliance counsel.

“Our skill sets are different from each other, but that is a good thing,” said Paul. “It’s great to know that you have a partner that you can completely trust and that you know cares about the business and the people involved as deeply as you do.”

Paul’s father founded Main Street Produce in the ‘70s, and through Alexandra and Paul’s immense responsibility for producing food and taking care of the land and the people that make it possible, the husband-and-wife team expanded the company and brought all three entities to new heights.

Today, the Allens consistently grow top-quality strawberries and broccoli through Freshway Farms, while selling product and offering cooling services to other growers and shippers through Main Street Produce.

“My favorite thing about working together is that it makes me feel like our lives are really 100 percent connected,” said Alexandra. “We have laughed about how it can be kind of hard to ‘turn off’ the shop talk, but at the same time, we are both so appreciative to have partners that really, truly understand what we do. We both care deeply about these companies and all of our employees, and when you really care deeply about something, it is great to have a spouse who honestly does ‘get it’!”

Cindi & Larry Pearson

Company: Santa Rosa Produce

Location: Maricopa, Arizona

From Army to agriculture, Cindi and Larry Pearson have together grown their family farm into a melon powerhouse.

Michigan-native Cindi met Larry, a third-generation grower, while serving in the Army; Cindi was in supply working for the Military Police and Larry was in the Military Police when the duo met. After completing their service, the couple then embarked on their joint-farming enterprise.

The pair jumped on an opportunity to buy some ground in Maricopa at an auction, and after winning the bid, the bank also offered a cooler that was near the acreage for a discounted rate. At the time, the couple did not have extensive knowledge about cooling; fast-forward 30 years, one of the Pearsons’ claims to fame is now skillfully running a 70,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art cooling facility that allows them to be efficient with their melon production as well as maximize storage capacity to guarantee quality.

The Pearsons also have built a reputation for implementing leading technologies to produce top-of-the-line cantaloupe, honeydew, mixed melons and cotton. In fact, they have been credited with being among the first melon operations to implement 100 percent drip irrigation.

The couple celebrated their 40-year anniversary a few years back, and their partnership has only grown stronger. Today, Cindi operates the shipping and cold storage of the melons while Larry Pearson manages the growing, and they continue to make all business decisions together.

Harrison Topp & Stacia Cannon

Company: Topp Fruits

Location: Hotchkiss, Colorado

Launching a farming enterprise from the ground up is a massive endeavor, but first-generation farmers Harrison Topp and Stacia Cannon are tackling the challenge in stride…and making it look easy.

“My partner Stacia and I are beginning farmers,” said Harrison. “Neither one of us grew up directly in agriculture, so when we decided that we wanted to do this we had to figure out a lot of things and make a lot of assessments about what the future might have in store.”

Harrison’s journey into agriculture started in 2012 when he casually started managing his parents’ plum and cherry orchard in Paonia, Colorado. Soon after, he started to develop a deep passion for horticulture and orchards and had inklings to expand operations.

“I started looking for more ground and that’s when Stacia came into my life. We started taking it seriously and really realizing what scale we needed to be at to make it work,” he said.

The pair officially expanded the operation in 2018 with an apple and peach orchard in Hotchkiss, and since then, have teamed to establish a strong market to move their fruit. Playing “divide and conquer,” the pair have set up relationships with packing houses, community-supported agriculture and farmers’ markets in anticipation of the large shift of fruit volume within the next couple of years.

To ensure the long-term sustainability of the farm, the young couple also developed a meticulously calculated model that would allow them to balance the amount of work and financial stress that come with farming in a way that would allow them to have a family, support one another and keep healthy. The main element of their model is maintaining off-farm work.

Harrison works as membership director for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union while Stacia works for a vet clinic. “During the farm season, they allow me to step down to do relief work which is really important for our business,” said Stacia.

As the couple artfully balances off-farm work with growing their orchard operation, they look forward to seeing Topp Fruits be sold far and wide for years to come.

Larry & Tina Cox

Company: Coastline Family Farms

Locations: California, Arizona and Mexico

While attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Larry and Tina formed an unbreakable bond that has since transformed into a marriage, a family of four and a thriving business partnership.

The husband-and-wife team founded Lawrence Cox Ranches in 1984 and began farming a 70-acre cotton field. The company now farms 3,300 acres in the Imperial Valley and the production has expanded to include all types of lettuce, melons, onions, asparagus, wheat, alfalfa, grains, hay and seed crops.

“Among my favorite things about working together, I’ve enjoyed the additional time we’ve been able to spend together—especially while traveling,” said Larry. “I’m pretty much ‘go, get the job done, get back home and get back to work,’ while Tina is much more spontaneous than I am and will say ‘let’s take an additional day or two when meetings are done and go see the surrounding areas.’”

In 1991, the couple launched Coastline Family Farms, and through their tenacity and dedication, the farm has grown into a year-round grower-shipper of premium vegetables from California, Arizona and Mexico. Though Tina stepped back from the business for a short period to raise their two sons, she has now returned to the farm and currently leads projects such as product development for Coastline Family Farms, logistics for employee housings and resource updates for human resources.

The classic yin to the yang, Larry and Tina’s different strengths beautifully complement each other to result in a thriving and healthy work environment for their employees.

“Tina has a different thought process than I do, and thank God for that,” said Larry. “She has strength and wisdom in areas that I don’t. She is much more perceptive of what is being asked of the people who work with us and is protective of their time and families. I’ve learned to trust her opinion.”