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Field Team Spotlight: Russell Huizenga 

By March 28, 2024No Comments

Meet Russell Huizenga, a field buyer at West Pak Avocado. Russell is a highly personable field team member who loves getting to know growers and building strong relationships with them. He is a natural at what he does and brings a lot of enthusiasm to his job. In a recent interview, Russell shares some insights into his role, the challenges he faces as a field buyer, and his love for avocados and the great outdoors.

Where are you from, and which West Pak facility do you work out of?

Russell: I was born and raised in Ventura, California, so it’s nice to be back home working out of our northern office in Oxnard, close to my family and friends. 

Why did you choose a career in agriculture?

Russell: I really got exposed to agriculture when I went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for college. While working on my soil science minor, my weekly labs were out in the Cal Poly experimental farmlands on the school’s property.

A big part of my decision is the people I get to meet. I feel like the people in agriculture are straight up to the point. They work with their hands and appreciate the outdoors and working off the land. The quality of people you work with makes a huge difference in your attitude when you’re heading into work. 

Does your education help you a lot in the field?

Russell: It does. With my soil science and plant science background, I was able to hit the ground running when I got into the avocado industry. I’ve learned most of what I know about avocados during my time with West Pak, but without the background knowledge I gained at Cal Poly, I wouldn’t have been able to pick it up as quickly. 

What are your current responsibilities as a field buyer?

Russell: I strategize and coordinate the procurement of avocados sourced from California growers, which involves negotiating the pricing, the volume, and picking strategies; plus, I offer detailed industry knowledge and market insights to my growers and client accounts. I manage current accounts and acquire new growers in Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties. We buy a lot of California fruit, so you need somebody to go out there and talk to the growers –  boots on the ground, negotiating how we might buy the fruit they’ve been growing all year. So, that’s my job! 

What is a typical work day or work week like for you?

Russell: It’s a lot of traveling around the Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties, bouncing from ranch to ranch, estimating crop volume and quality, and discussing what I’m seeing with our team to get a better understanding of what we’re seeing in the industry. If we’re picking a ranch, I’ll go out there and meet with the grower to make sure the pick is coming along smoothly. I’ll talk to the picking crews, look at the fruit that’s getting picked, and let our packing house know what to expect. We coordinate a lot with our drivers, who pick the fruit up and haul it to our packing house. Without that communication, we wouldn’t have a very successful operation!

I spend a lot of time calling growers and scheduling lunches, meet-ups, and grove walks to discuss harvest strategy, pack-outs, and anything else they might need help with.

What is the best part of your job?

Russell: I get to drive around for my job and end up on these beautiful properties, some of which have been in the family for generations. I get to learn about their land and the local history of some areas where I grew up nearby. It’s really interesting to hear about properties that have been in the family since the 1800s and to see how it’s all changed. I meet growers from all walks of life, all kinds of backgrounds and professions, and it’s really fun getting to know these people, spending time with them, and enjoying good company!

What strengths do you bring to your job?

Russell: I’m good at talking to any kind of person. I’m a personable, friendly, extroverted guy. I just like getting to know people and figuring out what makes them tick and why they do what they do. Relationships are a big part of the job, so I feel like I can talk to people from all walks of life, and I’d be comfortable doing it and confident in what I’m talking about. And I don’t necessarily shy away from a challenge. 

What is the most challenging part of what you do?

Russell: The most challenging part is early pre-season estimates that usually take place in the fall. The fruit is small on the tree; it’s bright green, the same exact color as the leaves. The challenging part isn’t finding the fruit, but it’s seeing the spider webs before walking into them! As I look for tiny green avocados hiding behind big green leaves, I tend to feel the webs before I see them. 

I understand that you handle some of the bigger grower accounts in your area. How has that been for you?

Russell: It involves a lot of phone calls between a lot of different people. You’d be surprised how many different people are involved in picking fruit—there are so many steps from getting the fruit off the tree and into our packing house. It’s really a team effort. I’m grateful to have such a good team around me to help me during my picks.

Overall, it’s been a great experience. Being able to handle these large accounts and secure them has been a big confidence booster for me. Every season, I learn more and refine my skills as a buyer, which helps me serve my growers that much better.

What one thing has helped you succeed in your position so far?

Russell: My coworkers: Andy, Mike, Ralph, Margie, Eduardo, and Juan. Everyone on our team. I ask a ton of questions all the time, especially when I first started out. Between them, there are so many years of industry knowledge and just class acts in the industry. They call me out on my mistakes and point out things I never would have noticed, and they really want to see me grow. It’s great to be surrounded by a team like that. So, my coworkers – not only just in our department but throughout West Pak.

Name one thing that your coworkers or growers may not know about you.

Russell: I played water polo for Cal Poly and am in a master’s league in Ventura and Santa Barbara. These activities keep me involved in this sport that I grew up playing.

What do you like to do in your spare time besides swimming?

Russell: I’ve been taking advantage of our spring weather right now. I love enjoying the new growth with local wildflowers, trees, and various plants. I’m really into native plants and animals. I’ve been doing a lot of hiking with my parent’s dog, Ripp. He’s a high-energy cattle dog who loves rolling in mud and getting my truck really dirty. So, most of the time, I’m either taking him on hikes or cleaning out my truck.

Do you have a favorite saying or motto you like to live by?

Russell: Hector taught me this. He’s one of our southern drivers. He said, “Panza llena corazón contento,” which means a full belly and happy heart. It’s not too deep, but it resonates with me as someone who loves their food.

What’s your favorite way to eat avocados?

Russell: My favorite way is when I’m out in the grove, and I’ve found one that’s fallen on the ground and ripened up over a week or two. I just cut it open and eat it straight. It’s the perfect snack when I’m doing an estimate or hiking a big ranch.

I get a lot of heat for this but I also love classic buttered avocado toast, but with chili flakes, salt, pepper, and a drizzle of honey—it’s super good.