“When we were young, we would walk the tomato fields with our father carrying a jar of water, a clean cloth and some salt and would pick, clean and eat our tomatoes right there in the field.”
–Alicia Bon Martin; 3rd Generation; Wilson Produce
Without even realizing it, James C. Wilson was setting the stage for a company that would be known for quality, innovation and authenticity. A true farmer, Mr. Wilson loved the feel of the soil and would walk the fields, stopping to look at his plants every day. With a focus on quality first, Mr. Wilson ran his farms unlike anyone else at the time. Starting with tomatoes and peas, the family farm in Bamoa quickly became known for little touches that made a difference such as peas that were packed in bushels, with the top layer hand-placed so it looked like a flower when opened, or leading the way in innovation with the first tomato packing machine in Sinaloa.
The Wilson’s live and breathe farming, struggle, work hard and invest in the Bamoa community—building a church and school in the village, playing baseball with the village children and creating a sense of unity on the farm that could not be broken—no matter how much of a struggle it became to keep their land. Meals were eaten together and a sense of home was created centered around a love of food.
All this passion for the land was hard to ignore, especially for Mr. Wilson’s son Jimmy and daughter Barbara – best known as Mama Bon (see recipes). During the 1950s, this second generation increased the farm’s growing Hectars to more than 2000, adding melons to their already well-known crops of tomatoes, beans and peas. Still hand-picking, still hand-wiping the mud off rain-soaked tomatoes and beans, still leading the way in farming in Mexico, The Wilson family continued to set the standard for quality. It was during this time that the next generation was born, surrounded by the soil, plants and people who would teach them that even in this increasingly modern world, the communal work of growing and preparing food lies at the heart of it all.
It was the sudden death of Jimmy Wilson in 1977 that brought the third generation home. As the oldest, Mama Bon’s namesake, daughter Bobbie, was the first to come home to work in 1978. Just graduated from UC Davis in California, she began working in sales, learning the operational side of the business. In 1985, Bobbie’s brother Benjamin began overseeing the farming operations and implemented the farm’s first drip irrigation system. Then in 1992, Alicia returned home to work in sales and marketing, also working side-by-side with Mama Bon in the kitchen at their family restaurant La Roca.
This trio of siblings along with Alicia’s husband Chris Martin and Bobbie’s husband David Lundstrom would take Wilson Produce to the next level—as they like to say, “This was the time when we went from a family farm to a family of farmers.” Slowly they began adding farms, products and hot houses—allowing Wilson Produce distribution into some of the largest retailers including Wal-Mart and Costco. Today, they grow many different commodities, on 8 farms and continue to seek out the best varieties that result in the best flavor. The Wilson’s most recent addition of the sweet mini pepper is a perfect example of this commitment.
The people who run Wilson Produce really are Wilson Produce. This is not some conglomerate with growing regions circling the globe. These are people anyone would be happy to call a friend. Warm and approachable, they each convey how much this company means to them—yesterday, today and especially tomorrow.
Bobbie and Alicia returned to Nogales, AZ. to work and Benjamin went to work in Bamoa, Sinaloa – Mexico.