Editor’s Note: The following profile is an excerpt from Amy Wu’s upcoming book, “From Farms to Incubators: Women Innovators Revolutionizing How Our Food is Grown,” which tells the stories of women entrepreneurs who are transforming agriculture through high technology.
Claudia Pizarro-Villalobos was born and raised in Salinas, California. She’s the head of marketing at D’Arrigo Brothers, one of the largest producers of broccoli rabe (rapini) in the country.
The family-owned grower, packer and shipper based in Salinas, grows and sells broccoli rabe, fennel, broccoli, cauliflower and romaine hearts under its flagship brand Andy Boy, named after Andy D’Arrigo. The produce can be found in supermarkets and stores across the U.S. The company has a total of 1,700 employees combined in Salinas and Yuma, Arizona.
Pizarro-Villalobos grew up the daughter of parents who emigrated from Mexico to the U.S. Her mother worked at a hair salon and her father at the sugar factory in Spreckels before they opened a Mexican restaurant named Chapala in Salinas.
After high school Pizarro-Villalobos attended the University of California, Berkeley, where she majored in ethnic studies. She later earned her master’s degree in higher education at Harvard University.
I first met Claudia when I was reporting on agriculture for The Californian, and wrote a number of stories about or related to D’Arrigo. We also led a special panel together at EcoFarm 2020 on how to use social media to effectively tell stories and boost one’s brand.
Here she talks about the journey that led to her job and what inspires her to continue with the work.
What led you to the agriculture sector? Does ag run in the family?
Pizarro-Villalobos: When my parents emigrated from Durango, Mexico, they did not speak English, have a formal education nor much money to get by. They landed in central California as they were told about farm-working opportunities and both worked in ag for many years. My mother wanted a change due to the laborious nature of farm work and took classes at the Salinas Adult School to learn English and began to cut hair at a salon. My father began to work for Spreckels Sugar Company and got by with very little English. My mother and father opened a Mexican restaurant named Chapala in Salinas and it thrived as a family business for 25 years. The business was the livelihood of our family and put my siblings Sandra, Ruben and myself through Catholic schools (kindergarten—high school) and college (undergraduate, law school and graduate school). So, you can say that my family’s humble beginnings started in agriculture and over the years we worked hard to attain the American Dream.
Through your work and what you do, what are your main contributions to your company?
Pizarro-Villalobos: I am proud of the broccoli rabe marketing campaign, creation of Andy Boy recipes, culinary videos and launching the Sip, Bite and Turn Up the Pink event, which raises awareness and funds for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The broccoli rabe campaign enlisted a celebrity chef, nutritionist and an array of culinary influencers to heighten the versatility, cooking techniques, recipes and nutritional attributes of broccoli rabe. On June 15, 2016, The Wall Street Journal ran a feature entitled, “Broccoli Rabe Dreams Big” and it underscores the success of the broccoli rabe campaign. We continue to build our library of recipes and culinary videos to educate customers and consumers on how to cook with our Andy Boy commodities.
What inspires you to continue what you do?
Pizarro-Villalobos: I have the honor of being a bilingual storyteller for a family-owned company that is celebrating its 100th Anniversary in 2020, and has a trusted and recognizable pink-colored produce brand (Andy Boy) that is revered nationally and internationally. I thoroughly enjoy the fact that in marketing no one day is the same and I can communicate in Spanish and English to reach a broader audience. One day I may be working on social media, culinary videos, recipe photos, setting up promotional collateral for retail ads, updating the website, working with influencers, filming farmworkers harvesting in the field and the next I may be creating produce spec sheets, preparing slides for a board of directors meeting, coordinating a company holiday luncheon, customer appreciation event, or serving as an ambassador for the company.
A quote that epitomizes you or inspires you?
Pizarro-Villalobos: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” —Barack Obama
Amy Wu is an award-winning journalist and author of “From Farms to Incubators,” scheduled to be released on April 20 by Linden Publishing. For more information, go to farmstoincubators.com.