An interview with company president David Garcia

Diamond chief says members’ belief in co-op has not wavered with the ups and downs

Wyoming native David Garcia has been with Diamond for more than a third of its existence, including the last three years as president, and chief financial officer for 10 years before that. He started as an entry-level accountant in 1978, a few years after graduating from University of Wyoming.

“We wanted to move to the Northwest, and I started putting out résumés, and got lucky in talking to Diamond; they liked what they saw, and I liked what I saw.”

Born and raised in Cheyenne, he said that when he came to Diamond, “I knew nothing about fruit.” That is certainly one change at Diamond

HRN: What’s it been like preparing for a centennial celebration?

David Garcia: We’ve learned things we haven’t thought of. We’re creating a picture book from our archives. We’ve interviewed many of our employees; it’s amazing how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.

We found out we have a time capsule from about 1934, at the old Waucoma Building, where there was a cannery and warehouse. (The renovated Waucoma Building, on Wasco Avenue just north of downtown Hood River, is now home to Insitu, CenturyLink and the National Scenic Area offices.)

We have not yet located it, and we will unearth it, but we want to know where it is, and unearth it at 100 years (about 2034). We’re not sure if through the renovation it wasn’t moved or something. We just want to know where it is so if it is there, it stays there, and when the time comes, open it up.

HRN: What has stood out in the research?

DG: How many packing houses there were in the valley, all of them independent, and how they came together, how much value there was in AGA — 80 percent of valley belonged to AGA at that time, which made sense because it was really the start of people getting together on how to ship. They had been packing (together), but they had to form with how to ship it to places like Portland, and how to store it.

Another interesting thing was I had heard it was always the apple valley and it transformed into pears, and it was all from the big freeze of 1919, which took out most of the apples and they found out pears were more hardy.

What I found most interesting is people ask, “Where is Diamond going?” When I started looking at that, it’s interesting because Mother Nature dictates where you’re going. The freeze put us on the path to pears. Technology has put us on another path. The shortage of labor, and the type of labor we use today, the Mexican labor force we have today and how that came in; in the future, again the lack of labor will drive us more to bring technology into how we pack pears.

The opening of China today; what is that going to do for us in the future? Is it going to help us or hurt us? It’s going to go both ways, too; China produces pears.

HRN: How would you describe Diamond’s overall future direction?

DG: I would imagine events that are occurring now will help determine the direction we’ll be going in the future. And again, on labor, it’s getting tougher in agriculture to find that labor. We will find a solution to that, whether it’s robotics, we are looking into that; different packaging, and then there are the chemical issues themselves — it’s becoming more and more restrictive, and where are we going to go in that light?

In the valley itself, we used to be more strawberries. Now it’s pears; now you hear blueberries coming in, and grapes and cherries; and as these growers learn to diversify and adjust, then DFG is also going to have to do the same thing. It could mean we’re packing blueberries. We will transform ourselves into whatever our growers need in order to assist them.

HRN: With regard to pears there are limitations to how much automation you can do. It needs to be hands on. How are you anticipating that aspect of things?

DG: Within the packing house, the pear itself we’ve always hand-wrapped it, because it has a sensitive skin and if it rubs against another pear, it will create scuff marks. Club stores (Costco) don’t want paper; they demand bags or Euro packing (or bags without paper). They’re driving that.

So now, all of a sudden, (we’re looking at) can a robot actually pick up a piece of pear, and place it, because now it’s not requiring it to wrap (the pear), it would place it into a tray. And so now the two forces potentially come together, (potential) automation and the club stores, not wanting to have paper on pears.

HRN: How about changes in the marketplace?

DG: Yes, all we have is what happens within the packing house, but the stores, again, dictate the type of product we have to grow, and cherries is an excellent example. Today, cherries have to be in the 10.5 row size and larger. We used to handle up to 12-row, which is a small cherry, but those are not accepted anymore.

The consumer, I don’t even know it’s the consumer as much as the store, dictates what the consumer will have. It’s more the store; and they’re telling them what they’re going to have, and what’s a good product and not a good product.

HRN: Are there any facility changes likely with Diamond?

DG: We are not anticipating any; we’d like to be more centralized, so any growth we were to have will likely be here in the Odell area.

(On the West Side storage facility:) It has become more and more difficult to use: It is closer to Hood River, and with the trucks going, and that whole process is difficult.

HRN: It’s no secret that others are looking at that facility and land for other uses, such as recreational. What can you say about the long-term use and inclusion of the West Side facility for Diamond?

DG: We have identified it as property we would be interested in selling. It is not a have-to situation for us; if the right situation comes for us, our board of directors would look at it, but it would have to be the right situation for us.

HRN: Is the cooperative system here stay?

DG: As with any business, you have your up years and down years, and we had our down years. But things are looking up, and there is a lot of enthusiasm for the co-op now. We have some really true believers in that.

One of the ways we are unique at Diamond is that while orchards in other areas, Washington in particular, are becoming bigger and bigger, there’s a real belief in Diamond that one of the reasons we’re here is that because of those middle-sized, small orchards that really started this. And there is a lot of heartfelt belief that’s what we need to continue with. I don’t see Diamond changing its structure.

HRN: how would you describe the changes you have seen?

DG: What I find amazing is the loyalty and the belief in the farmers to Diamond and the co-op system. It’s always easy to be a member of anything when it’s successful, but during the difficult years, closure of the cannery, the returns weren’t as good, and pears in general weren’t doing as good.

And these people believed in what they were doing, so much, that you could not drive them out. You couldn’t drive them out of the valley; you couldn’t drive them out of Diamond. They just believe in the system; they believe in farming; they believe in the co-op itself, and that has stayed consistent. It’s one of the constants that I haven’t seen change.

I’ve seen faces change, I’ve seen buildings change, but I haven’t seen that belief change, and that’s been the most impressive thing. It suits my personality, because I’m the same way; to stay in one place for so long and go through that.

The rest of the changes have been equipment and things such as from wood bins to plastic, boxes, packaging; we don’t market here, we market outside, and changes in the technology, and the point about the pear.

Through all these years, the pear and how you handle it hasn’t changed all that much; in respect that it’s required that labor, that personal touch put onto that pear. And it will be interesting to see if it ever allows us to change that, if we’ll always be dependent on that labor.

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