Dick Peixoto (pronounced Peh-SHOTE) exemplifies a recent type of organic farmer who, after a long career in conventional farming, transitions to organics for a mixture of reasons. Peixoto was born in 1956 in Watsonville, California, the grandson of immigrants from the Azores Islands who have been farming in the Pajaro Valley for the past 100 years. He grew up on the family ranch on Green Valley Road. His father worked off-farm for a fertilizer and pest control company in Watsonville, in addition to working on the family ranch. Peixoto spent his childhood riding around with his dad, dragging spray hoses around apple orchards in the Pajaro Valley. He dates his farming career to eighth grade, when he hired neighborhood kids to pick tomatoes on his family farm so he could market them. In 1976, when Peixoto was a senior in high school, he and his brother, Jim, began growing string beans commercially. Soon after, Peixoto began farming on his own, learning lettuce growing, as well as irrigation and laser leveling.
Attracted by the organic price premium, Peixoto decided to transition to organic farming, and began Lakeside Gardens on a 55-acre farm in Watsonville in 1996. His conventional farming friends thought he had “lost his marbles,” but Lakeside Gardens has been very successful and Dick has become a spokesperson for integrated pest management, hedgerows and other organic farming methods. The company has expanded their operation to a total of 1200 acres, including fifty different parcels in the Pajaro Valley, many of which border on hospitals and schools trying to reduce pesticide exposure. Lakeside also farms on 500 acres in El Centro, making them one of the larger organic growers on the Central Coast and in California. They grow 75 different crops. All of their produce is California grown, and shipped by Albert’s Organics and other organic food distribution companies across the country to grocery stores such as Safeway and Kroger’s, as well as Whole Foods.
Peixoto is outspoken on food safety, water supply, open space preservation, and other issues affecting agriculture, and is often quoted in the media on these topics. Ellen Farmer conducted this oral history on April 18, 2007, at Lakeside Organic Gardens in Watsonville.