It always starts with a friendly hello, in both English and Spanish – “Good morning, bienvenidos,” says Juan Esparza as he warmly greets each member of his work family at West Pak Avocado at the Murrieta, California facility. He shakes hands and asks how each worker is doing before setting out to organize the day before them. As the Transportation Manager for the global fruit company, Juan’s day is just beginning. And with it, his team’s contribution to the company starts the flow of green goodness that helps feed families both in the company and across the world.
“Everything I do is about drivers and transportation. As drivers, it is our job to load and unload and get the fruit back to West Pak safely,” says Juan.
He adds, “On a typical day, our buyers organize pickup sheets, which tell us what we need to do for the day. The sheets outline how many empties we’ll need, where we are going to go in the field, and how many bins we are going to pick up; that way, we are prepared for our pickups for the day.”
Once everything is organized, and tasks are assigned, the drivers head out to check their trucks and load the empty bins, or “empties,” as they call them. After all is secure, they are off to their many stops to drop off the empties and pick up full ones at any number of ranches across the California growing regions. The day’s haul is transported back to the West Pak facility, where the avocados are unloaded and packed into the refrigerator awaiting processing.
With the incoming fruit paperwork follows, and Juan steps in to process the documentation. He reports what was dropped off or picked up and compares the numbers to the original pickup sheets supplied by the buyers each day. It’s also his job to work through any discrepancies, to notify the buyers of shortages or overages so the growers can be informed accordingly.
In addition to assuring that the product makes its way into the packing house, Juan has other responsibilities. There is a multitude of forms for the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and Department of Transportation (DOT), not to mention a rigorous maintenance schedule to keep the trucks running at top performance.
“I am a driver myself, and I am in charge of other drivers, too, so the vehicles must always be in top working condition so that everybody is safe. Safety is the most important thing for us, as we need to think of our families and other families too,” Juan explains.
He continues, “We are driving a big truck with a lot of weight when fully loaded, so we need to be especially careful. It also takes time for us to gain speed as we enter the highway. It’s not always easy to navigate when other drivers become impatient and drive around us or jump into the space in front of us when we really do need to keep it open in case we need to stop. That’s why our trucks must always be in top working condition, and our drivers have to practice patience – we always have to think of safety for everybody. We know that it’s dangerous work, but it’s part of the job. We know that we have to take care of it, and we do.”
When asked about the hardest part of his job, Juan responded with: “Rain – it can make our job that much tougher. Trucks can get stuck in the mud, and the bins become slippery, so we have to take even more care on the road, avoiding sudden stops and leaving more room on wet roads between us and the vehicles around us.”
“On the other side of things, we really do like when it rains because it means life for the trees. We’re thinking of the growers and how good it is for them and their crops. When growers have a better crop, they make more money, and if they make money, they are happy. When growers are happy, so are we – there’s more work to do, which provides more hours to those working in the packing house.”
West Pak drivers transport fruit locally during California’s six-month season, but in the offseason, they do more distance runs using the company’s three long-haul trucks. Juan is responsible for tracking the drivers to see where they are in their journey to West Pak’s Texas facilities and back. And with two more long haul vehicles being acquired and two boom trucks on the way in the south, Juan’s workload is definitely expanding.
How it all Started
Juan is one of the employees who have been with the company since the early days when it was just a handful of people working hard to get the fledgling firm off the ground. Back then, he worked the line, checked boxes, drove the forklift, received fruit, and sometimes helped load and unload the trucks. When Galen needed a new driver, Juan’s brother, who also worked for West Pak at the time, made the recommendation.
“In 1983, when I first hired on, it was only the Class C license that was needed to be a driver. For the trucks at the time, you didn’t need anything more than that but after a few years, that all changed. Once you start going into three axles plus a trailer, it requires a driver with a Class A. After about two years, West Pak helped me complete my training for class A. Today, it takes a class A and B to drive for us,” Juan adds.
“I’m drawn to farming and have always loved being out on the road seeing all of the greenery. I always looked forward to chatting with the picking crews and field managers and watching the trees become heavy with fruit. The process is fascinating to me, and I find it so fulfilling to see our growers realize success.”
“I am not running out or driving into the field as much because I have more responsibilities now. I have always enjoyed my job and am thankful to West Pak for allowing me to advance through the years and now into my new position as Transportation Manager. It’s a great place to work with nice benefits and a culture that makes me proud. The facility is amazing, and the equipment is always top-notch, which makes a difference when working day-to-day. However, the reason I stayed for so many decades is how the company respects me. Starting with the founders, the company has always treated me like family, and family, to me, is everything.”
In his off time, it’s no surprise that Juan focuses solely on his family. “I take care of my family, my wife, and my five kids,” he reveals. “I have a daughter attending university, two kids who live on their own in Arizona, and two others living at home with us. We are all swamped during the week, but the weekends are for my family and nothing else. We love to go out, maybe for breakfast or to church, or spend time in the park playing baseball or football. I’m just trying always to be the best for my kids, for my family. After all, family is everything!”