Valley Organic Produce Feeds Texans


Valley Organic Produce Feeds Texans

Organic farmer Mark Miller holds gold beets grown at Tenaza Farms
Organic farmer Mark Miller holds gold beets grown at Tenaza Farms.

Location, location, location is a familiar adage used to describe a major selling point in the real estate industry. In today’s health-conscious consumer marketplace, it’s organic, organic, organic.

Just ask Mike Ortiz and Mark Miller, two of three partners (the other one is Jade Murray) who are involved in growing, packing and shipping more than a dozen winter vegetables for some of the biggest, and smallest, supermarkets and specialty shops in the Lone Star State.

Their company, M&O Produce/Tenaza Farms, located west of Los Fresnos, has evolved from a 50-acre operation to some 250 acres in the nearly five years since they started the enterprise that grows crops following organically certified guidelines.

“Everything is organically approved, including the applications we use on our crops,” said Miller, a Los Fresnos resident.  “Therefore, we follow state and national organic guidelines.”

Organic cilantro bound for Texas supermarkets
Organic cilantro bound for Texas supermarkets

Why organic?

According to research by the Mayo Clinic, organic planting and growing methods enhance soil and water quality, reduce pollution, provide safe and healthy habitats and promote a self-sustaining cycle of resources on a farm. Organic foods are also known to have more beneficial nutrients, such as antioxidants, and seem to taste better and last longer in the fridge or on store shelves. But all that comes with a price, since farming organic produce costs more than their conventionally-grown counterparts.

Ortiz said they supply their produce to retailers and supermarkets all over the state, adding that the demand for organically grown produce has been taking off by leaps and bounds in the last decade. In the Rio Grande Valley and across Texas, supermarket chains like H-E-B have been adding more organic fruits and vegetables.

Ortiz, who used to grow artichokes just outside Rancho Viejo, said he was approached by a businessman who asked him if he was interested in expanding his business to include winter vegetables. Today, the farm produces varieties of cabbage, kale, broccoli, onions, beets, parsley, lettuce, chards, collard greens, cilantro and cucumbers.

Miller said their farming cycle starts with 16 to 18 weeks of planting, since they grow their crops in stages to allow for a longer harvest season. The harvest runs from December through the third week in April, except for cucumbers which are picked from April through July.

Farm workers pick and pack winter vegetables during the harvest season.
Farm workers pick and pack winter vegetables during the harvest season.

Ortiz said their organic farm is affiliated with the Texas Department of Agriculture’s GO TEXAN campaign, which was launched to promote and support products grown or made in the state.

Farm workers could be seen recently picking produce from a field planted with several varieties of winter vegetables. The workers placed plastic crates filled with produce on a tractor that moved through the middle of the field.

“Our farm is neither a small nor a large type of operation,” Ortiz said, “but somewhere in between.” Smaller organic farms have become more popular in recent years. Small plots, often behind someone’s home in a rural area, grow organic produce bound for farmers markets around the Valley. M&O Produce/Tenaza Farms operates on a somewhat larger scale and grows organically certified crops for consumers all over Texas.

Freelance journalist Tony Vindell has more than 30 years experience as a newspaper reporter. Born in Nicaragua, he studied journalism and political science at the University of Missouri-Columbia and at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo. He began his career working for The Pecos Enterprise in West Texas. Vindell also worked for The Laredo News, The Brownsville Herald, Valley Morning Star, Port Isabel News Press and the Raymondville Chronicle/News. Vindell, who lives in Brownsville with his wife Sharon, enjoys hunting, fishing and traveling.