Trip and Miles Reiter are deeply invested in the local ag community.
Like many farming businesses on the Central Coast, Driscoll’s is a family affair. Ed Reiter and Richard “Dick” Driscoll began growing strawberries in the Pajaro Valley in 1904, and the company has continued through four generations of growers. 2016 CSUMB alum Joseph “Trip” Reiter is among the latest to join that lineage, now growing raspberries in the Watsonville area.
“As my family is involved in the agriculture industry, knowledge of the Spanish language and Hispanic culture is an absolute must,” says Trip, who majored in Spanish at CSUMB. Every day, he works closely with Spanish-speaking employees and colleagues, putting the language skills he developed in school into action.
For both Trip and his father, Miles Reiter, cross-cultural competency is critical to their business success. Miles worked for 30 years doing various hands-on jobs in the company, and ultimately led Driscoll’s as chairman and CEO. “There are lots of challenges and opportunities. We’ve got operations on six continents and 23 countries. We’re the market leader in North America and Australia, and prominent in Europe and China,” says Miles. “There’s a lot to keep us energized and engaged, and a lot of exposure to different cultures.”
CSUMB has done a good job of adding capability to the local area in hospitality, ocean science, health, education, and now ag. They’re addressing the unique challenges of Monterey Bay and the Salinas Valley, and really beneficial to the overall community at large.— Miles Reiter
As a student, the opportunity to explore the cross-cultural aspects of the family business interested Trip. He strove to learn more about the people who make up the agricultural workforce in Watsonville. His senior year Capstone focused on the cultural factors that influence workers to immigrate to Watsonville. “I interviewed over 20 people and asked each of them 27 different questions, which I felt represented their reasons for leaving their homes and migrating to Watsonville,” says Trip. “I also researched the history of agricultural workers in Watsonville, where they came from and what factors drove them to come here.”
Miles recalls attending his son’s Capstone presentation. “I’ve been in the business a long time, working with people from central Mexican states, and his Capstone gave me insights I had missed,” says Miles.
Closer look at things
Miles now serves on the Foundation Board and has had the opportunity to get to know CSUMB President Eduardo Ochoa. They’ve discussed the possibility of the university developing programs that connect it with universities in Guadalajara and Michoacán—creating a more seamless experience for people who migrate between the tri-county area and Mexico and building off the insights of Trip’s Capstone.
Miles first became aware of CSUMB when Fort Ord was decommissioned. He knew Peter Smith, the university’s founding president, as a fellow Princeton alumnus, and appreciated the academic structure being developed at the new university—like the way the Capstone requirement was modeled off the senior thesis that Princeton required. “I paid attention and donated a little for some of the buildings,” says Miles. “I got more engaged because my son went there. I got a closer look at things.”
Miles is also is keenly interested in the development of a new ag program tied to the College of Business, the fifth such program coming out of a state university in California. “It would focus on supply chain issues and innovations in supply chain management,” says Miles. “The crops we grow in this area are so perishable— berries and lettuce are among the most perishable items in the produce department. It makes sense to focus on the ag elements that are most important to the region.”
Finding new solutions
Another area Miles sees potential for collaborative benefit between the university and local businesses is through science and environmental programs. Whether through researching freshwater issues and ocean health or developing alternatives to plastic, the university can become a partner and lend expertise toward finding new solutions that will help businesses like Driscoll’s become more environmentally sustainable.
“CSUMB is really coming into its own now,” he says. “It’s a significant element in the local area. We’re seeing that creating opportunity in our business. The families of our employees are getting better educations as first generation college students at CSUMB. We need people trained. We’re hiring more out of there—there’s a range of opportunities for recent grads in sales, marketing, finance, research, and the agricultural program just being organized.”
“I’ve learned that it makes a big difference in the quality and connection to have financial contributions and participation of local people in addition to just state funding. Alumni need to step up, but it’s tough for a new university where the average age of alumni is younger. It’s a reason to do a little more than you would otherwise.”