At Garden Fresh restaurants, Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, we help our guests “Discover Fresh” by having fresh produce and salads, made-from-scratch soups, hot pastas, freshly baked breads and muffins, desserts, and more. Barkley Company of Arizona, based in Yuma, is an example of one of the farms that we receive fresh lettuce from that we would like to share their story.
Hank Auza, a fourth generation family member, manages Barkley Company of Arizona. They understand that good, wholesome produce starts in the field. Hank grew up in the family business and worked his way up the organization as previous generations have before and is now general manager. In 1918, Hank’s great grandfather, Les Barkley, moved to the farming valley of Yuma, where he joined Uncle Hugh Barkley, in Yuma Valley to produce cotton and alfalfa.
Hank starts his day at sunrise, working until after sunset, overseeing the farm that produces over 250 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables, grain, and forage crops each year. November through March is the peak season for growing vegetables. It varies year to year based on contracts with shippers and processors in determining how much of each product to plant. There is about 14,290 crop acres under production each year.
In the winter vegetable season, 1,100 people or more are involved from planting through harvesting. The summertime crops, such as grains, dates, and cotton require very little labor. Hank elaborates, “During the vegetable season, workers tend to do a specific job like irrigation or cultivation. It is full time work during the growing season. Summertime crops require far fewer people, but they perform many roles during the growing and harvesting season.”
When it comes to water usage, Hank says, “A significant percentage of the irrigation water actually soaks back into the water table.” With irrigation practices to help save water, advanced technology has evolved in farming and helps improve production. “Tractors overall are far more efficient than even five years ago. The Barkley Company maintains a very modern fleet of farming equipment. The use of GPS guided tractors has become commonplace in land preparation and listing of beds (making beds and furrows). The accuracy directly impacts irrigation efficiency,” says Hank. As to the future? Hank says, “We expect significant robotic changes in the next 10 years, including automated thinning, weeding, and harvesting.”
The distribution provider picks up multiple times a week ensuring that the products are very fresh when it gets to the customers. They harvest and process six days a week for the winter crops. By closely monitoring all aspects of production, and implementing the food safety program, Barkley Company of Arizona, is better able to deliver the fresh and healthy foods.
So, what keeps Hank awake at night? Hank says, “Nothing. A strong team eliminates nightmares.” He takes pride in his extensive farm, values his workers, and continues to provide fresh product for everyone to enjoy. Hank wants people to know, “We’re stewards of the land and take sustainability very seriously. Future generations deserve no less.”
About Barkley Company of Arizona
For over 75 years the Barkley family has been supplying customers with food and fiber nationwide. Though times on the farm have changed since our start back in 1918, our commitment to our customers has not.