Peter Oszaczky is general manager of Organic Harvest Network, a sales and marketing company that exclusively represents organic growers. Peter joined OPN for a conversation about Organic Harvest Network’s history and mission, its recent acquisition by GrubMarket, and more.
Can you share a little bit about your background in the produce industry?
I got into the produce industry by happenstance in 1989. Previously, I was a stained glass artist and a vagabond. After a six-month trip, I came back to San Francisco flat broke. My friend Paul Rabadan helped me get a job at Cooks Company where I began by sorting tomatoes for $6 per hour. At the end of the season, I became a delivery driver. After working for Cooks company, I worked at Greenleaf, Good Nature Grocery, Earl’s Organic Produce, and Wooley Farms.
Peter Oszaczky, General Manager, Organic Harvest Network
How long have you worked at Organic Harvest Network (OHN), and what led you to start working there?
Giuseppe Salvato, who founded Organic Harvest Network in 1988, offered me a job. We met on top of a hill in Bernal Heights overlooking San Francisco where talk of a job turned into talk of being 50/50 partners. We agreed on that and have enjoyed being great friends and partners since 2004.
Can you briefly summarize Organic Harvest Network’s history and mission, including why you only represent organic growers?
Organic Harvest Network began as a sales broker of organic produce in 1988. Then about 20 years ago, Giuseppe decided to focus on partnering with growers to represent their sales exclusively. Our mission is to develop the farmers’ labels and brands in the marketplace and to forge strong relationships between the farms and customers. We only represent organic growers because organic agriculture is what we believe in—it’s what we eat and how we live.
What services does Organic Harvest Network provide growers?
Organic Harvest Network works closely with our farmers and customers to crop plan ahead of every season. Crop planning with the growers and customers is key to expanding production of current crops and experimenting with new items. Organic Harvest Network takes on all the sales, marketing, accounts receivable, and logistics. This allows the farmers to concentrate on growing and packing quality produce.
"Our mission is to develop the farmers’ labels and brands in the marketplace and to forge strong relationships between the farms and customers. We only represent organic growers because organic agriculture is what we believe in—it’s what we eat and how we live." -Peter Oszaczky
Can you tell us about the growers you work with at OHN, and how those relationships began?
Organic Harvest Network has worked with Durst Organic Growers for over 25 years. We first started out as a customer brokering Durst’s product. Jim Durst and Giuseppe realized the best future for both companies was to have OHN represent Durst’s sales exclusively. We have grown each other’s business with asparagus, snap and English peas, cherry tomatoes, specialty melons, watermelons, and winter squash.
Jim Durst and Peter Oszaczky
I approached Hans Wilgenburg, owner of Wilgenburg Greenhouses, 12 years ago with the idea of OHN representing his farm’s sales exclusively. Over many lunches and meetings, Hans agreed. We have been able to build on the success of established crops like European cucumbers and introduce heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers into our program.
"Jim Durst and Giuseppe realized the best future for both companies was to have OHN represent Durst’s sales exclusively. We have grown each other’s business with asparagus, snap and English peas, cherry tomatoes, specialty melons, watermelons, and winter squash." -Peter Oszaczky
Who are your primary customers?
Whole Foods, Raley’s, New Seasons, Nor-Cal Produce, Organically Grown Company, Pacific Coast Fruit Company, and Earl’s Organic Produce are longstanding customers. Retailers account for about 80 percent of our market (via direct sales and wholesale outlets), and foodservice (via wholesalers) accounts for the rest.
Last year, Organic Harvest Network was acquired by GrubMarket—how did that come about, and how has that new ownership structure been going?
We approached GrubMarket as a potential customer, and we had a very productive meeting. Soon after, they asked us if we were interested in being acquired. The new ownership structure allows us to function the same as we always have.
Since the acquisition, has OHN continued to use its proprietary order-tracking/accounting software, or do you now use GrubMarket’s platform?
The OHN proprietary software is still in use. It allows for our growers to see in real time the details of every transaction we do on their behalf. GrubMarket is in the process of modernizing certain features and integrating our software with their platform.
Peter Oszaczky in wine grape costume
You exclusively represent organic growers from California. Can you talk about the challenges of competing with organic growers in Mexico and what you do to stay competitive?
It is a huge challenge for California growers to compete directly with organic growers from Mexico considering the disparity in regulations and labor and production costs. We are only able to stay competitive because of the excellent-quality product of our farmers and the commitment of loyal customers who support seasonal, local, and domestic production.
How has the COVID situation affected your business?
COVID has been a difficult challenge for our growers as they are careful to implement every precaution to protect their workers. At times due to quarantine protocols, our farms can be without 25 percent or more of their labor force.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
We are incredibly grateful to our growers and their workers for all the hard work that goes into farming, and we are grateful to our customers for the support over all these years.