In Their Words: Steve Koretoff, Purity Organics
Photo credit: Matthew Malcolm (L-R: David Koretoff, Nick Koretoff and Steve Koretoff)
Purity Organics is a fully integrated producer, processer and marketer of certified organic almonds near Kerman, California. Steve is the general manager of this fifth generation family operation.
OPN Connect: What is the history of Purity Organics?
Purity Organics, Inc. was started in 2005. It was our family’s effort to be more vertically integrated. We are going on 5 generations of farmers in Central California and we needed to be more vertically integrated to insure the success of future generations. We want to provide an opportunity for family members to continue our family tradition of farming.
OPN Connect: At what point did you take up organic production?
My father, Nick Koretoff, wanted to find a niche market for our farming operation and started to make the transition to organic in the mid 1990's. We were a full organic farming operation by 2007. After several years of farming organic he noticed that some of the problems we saw in our conventional acreage were diminished on the organic side. It was at this point he decided to convert all acreage to organic farming practices.
It is our intention to continue to expand our organic farming operation and encourage conventional growers to convert to organic and sustainable farming practices.
OPN Connect: What are some of the challenges you face as an organic producer?
Organic inputs are always a challenge. We have been encouraging companies to put more effort into providing organically approved materials that all farmers can use. We need to see more sustainable and organic farm research. Traditional plant breeding and sustainable soil research benefit all growers; it is a great investment in the US food system.
OPN Connect: Are there any innovative things happening on your farm you want to share?
We look for slow sustainable growth by increasing our acreage year over year. We installed high efficiency drip irrigation in 160 acres and have already seen a big benefit in water efficiency and plant health. We are planning a solar project for our packing facility and cold storage as well on one of our irrigation wells. We hope to finalize the project and start installation in the very near future.
OPN Connect: What are the biggest opportunities for organic producers?
Demand for organic products is at an all-time high, the industry nearly reached $50 billion dollars last year. This demand gives more opportunities to small and new producers that they simply would not have on the conventional side. Seeing the fruits of your labor and realizing a profit on small scale farms is more achievable in the organic market.
OPN Connect: You are active in agricultural policy – tell us why you think it’s important to be involved?
About 10 years ago I was invited to take part in an organic/sustainability policy conference in Washington DC. Part of that conference involved meeting elected officials on Capitol Hill. It amazed me that several of the Representatives we met with had never actually met a farmer let alone an organic farmer. One of the Congressmen we met with pulled me aside after our meeting and told me he really appreciated that I visited his office, he had never me a farmer before and didn't really understand the challenges face by farmers every day. He encouraged me to return to Washington DC to engage his colleagues on a regular basis. He told me, "all day long we have advocates and organizations visiting us asking us to do this or do that but, rarely do we have people like yourself come and tell us what you are facing and the challenges you deal with, this is what we need to hear about first hand from people like you." Ever since that meeting I have made an effort to visit the Hill at least once every year, sometimes twice when possible.
For several years I was a board member at CCOF and currently am one of the CCOF Representatives on the OTA Farmers Advisory Council. Several years ago I was one of the original members of the Almond Board of California's Organic Advisory Panel and now am the Vice-Chairman of the OAP.
OPN Connect: What else should we know about Purity Organics?
Purity Organics, Inc. is an organic only almond processing and packing facility. In addition to production we receive from our family orchards, we also purchase and handle products for other growers. We do our best to tell our "organic success" story to other growers and hope that others will follow.
One of our great joys is to have people visit our facility. We love it when visitors walk into our facility and with a shocked look on their face say "this is organic"? For some reason people think if you’re an organic operation they are going to see a run-down barn infested with pigeons run by people in tie-dye. I get a good laugh every time I hear something like that. Our facility is state of the art and we pride ourselves on quality and cleanliness, after all, our name includes the word "Purity".
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