Garland S. Reiter ’72 is a third generation farmer and the President and Chief Executive Officer of Reiter Affiliated Companies (RAC), a forward-thinking business that has expanded berries' popularity world-wide and made them a year-round treat. He was recognized with Webb's Alumni Outstanding Achievement Award in 2017.
Reiter grew up in the small town of Los Altos, California and was the youngest of four children to Glovina and Joe Reiter. His grandfather, Joseph “Ed” Reiter and first cousin, R.O. Driscoll, began farming in 1904, growing Sweet Briar strawberries off the central coast of California.
Garland attended the Webb School of California, graduating the summer of 1972. He started his career in the family business working summers on the farms at various field labor positions developing a variety of skills in ground preparation, field layout, leveling and planting. Working hands-on in the field gave Garland the opportunity to learn the business from the ground up. It was there that he gained an understanding of ranch functions, managing personnel, developing Spanish speaking skills and broadening his cultural understanding of Mexico’s people and traditions.
Upon graduation from the University of Santa Clara in 1976, he joined the family business full time in Watsonville and in early 1977 moved to Oxnard to start Reiter Brothers, Inc., to expand their farming opportunities in Southern California. By the spring of that year, Garland and his siblings had lost both of their parents, their untimely death placed Miles and Garland at the helm of their family business at a formidable time in their early careers. It was then that the decision was made to continue the family business as generations had done before them, not only preserving the legacy that preceded them, but to grow the company to be one of the nation’s leaders in the agricultural industry.
Miles became President of Reiter Berry Farms and Garland became President of Reiter Brothers, Inc. Over the course of the next 23 years, they worked hard to establish themselves as one of the preeminent strawberry and raspberry growers in California. The foundation of their success had been laid out by their forefathers, due in great part to their family’s commitment to researching and developing plant genetics that were no longer public varieties, but were unique one-of-a-kind varieties that could be branded exclusively by and for Driscoll’s. In 2000, Garland took full leadership of Reiter Affiliated Companies as their President and CEO with duties to direct global production operations and partnerships with Driscoll’s. In the meantime, Miles left Reiter Berry Farms to pursue his career at Driscoll’s as their company President.
The brothers have increased the Reiter Affiliated Companies (RAC) and Driscolls' investment in farming, pioneering new plant species, developing new geographies that include production and markets in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Australia and China. From the beginning of his career to present, Garland has encouraged a progressive company culture that not only seeks to further the growth of the business, but also improves and enriches the lives of its employees. ‘Honesty, Fairness and Respect’ are displayed proudly on the walls of every office from the field to the foyers of RAC’s entire organization. The words resonate in the mindfulness of every employee, to act and think with integrity and to lead the way with a culture of dignity and respect.
As part of aligning with this philosophy, Garland has focused a significant amount of his energy and investment in developing Reiter Affiliated Companies’ Philanthropy Program. In 2009, Garland initiated a cooperative agreement with UC Berkeley and UC Davis to develop an intervention pilot program titled Sembrando Salud, to combat diabetes and obesity. Farmworkers participate in health literacy based on a simple five-step healthy framework, which promotes drinking more water, eating fresh vegetables and fruits, exercising at least 30 minutes a day, measuring food portions as well as the waist line, and involving families and community in practicing healthy habits. As of 2017, more than 5,000 farmworkers have graduated from the program across ranches throughout the U.S. and Mexico.
Complimenting this effort, RAC was the first agricultural firm in the nation to provide private, primary and preventative, health clinics for their farm workers. With this program, Garland set a new standard for the agricultural industry by placing a high priority on employee health and following through on that commitment with practical healthcare services and education for his employees. His dedication to this program continues to be a major focal point both personally and professionally as he hopes his leadership in this arena will perhaps lead the way for replication in other farm worker communities.
In January of 2017, Garland stepped out of his day-to-day role as CEO and presides as Executive Chairman of Reiter Affiliated Companies. Although his position still actively oversees the high-level strategic decisions of the organization as well as the functionality of the Board of Directors, he can still be seen walking the rows of newly planted strawberries, seeking out conversation with ranch managers about how we will delight the consumer this year.
Outside of his professional pursuits, Garland has enjoyed living in the same house in Santa Barbara with his wife Brenda, for more than 30 years raising their three boys Eric, Garland Jr. and Austin. Eric and Garland Jr. have taken an interest in the family business, working on the family ranches over the past several years, investing in and managing small start-up growing operations in Mexico and California thereby following in the footsteps of their father.
His oldest son, Eric, began farming in Central Mexico, then moved to Santa Maria to solidify his U.S. farming experience, wrapping up a full two years of hands on growing. From there, Eric shifted his focus to understanding the retail side of the business and moved to upstate New York to work for Wegman’s grocery store within their management development program. He returned in 2014 to head up RAC’s Southern California Division.
Garland Jr., gained his farming experience by becoming a partner of RAC in Baja, managing his own successful operation for 3 years. He returned home in 2014 and went to work for Valley Produce, broadening his knowledge base within the wholesale produce side of the business. He is now working for Driscoll’s of Europe within their marketing and sales department. Garland’s youngest son, Austin, graduated college at New York University and recently completed a long sailing journey from Santa Barbara to Fiji.
Garland is proud of the work he and his family have accomplished over the years and is hopeful that his family’s legacy of farming will continue long into the future.