Meet the Farmer: Bill Colace
Around the country, most farmers are celebrating another harvest and looking forward to the fallow winter season. However, at Five Crowns Marketing, located in the Imperial Valley in very southern California, the last crop of cantaloupes will not be harvested until mid-October. And that’s a big source of satisfaction for Bill Colace, who owns the farm with his brother, Joe.
“The Imperial Valley is the first to start and the last to finish,” Bill says. “It is the two bookends of the whole California season, and we take great pride in this.”
The Colace brothers won’t just be bringing in traditional cantaloupes this fall, either. Five years ago, they worked with seed company Harris Moran and Legend Produce to pioneer a new type of melon. It’s called Origami, and has high sugar levels, deep orange meat, and a smaller seed cavity for greater meat yield. Its shell is harder than other varieties, which gives it a longer shelf life.
Five Crowns, along with Legend Produce, grows more than 2,500 acres of Origami melons now, providing fresh, in-season fruit across the country. But it’s not the first time Bill’s family has pushed the envelope on cantaloupe innovation.
Bill is descended from a family of farmers who were willing to try new ways of farming — and cantaloupes have been a constant presence. Bill’s dad, Joseph Sr., was the son of farmers from Italy. They immigrated to the United States and settled in Philadelphia, where they worked in the produce markets. But Bill’s dad wanted to continue the family’s tradition of farming. He chose the Imperial Valley and began growing cantaloupes; the first field was harvested in 1952.
“My father had a great work ethic and an incredible passion for what he grew,” Bill says. “He was such a relational person. He was very personable and a natural salesman. And since he loved cantaloupes, he could speak passionately about it. He taught us to work hard and respect others; believe in what you’re doing, but do it with all your heart. He was a simple man, but through great simplicity taught us to do what you love with all your heart.”
His maternal grandfather was in the seed business and helped develop the Top Mark variety.
“As you can see, cantaloupes are in our blood,” Bill says. “We love cantaloupes.”
After a brief time at Cal Poly, Bill knew he wanted to join the family business. He started Five Crowns in 1983 with his father and brother and focused on packing and shipping. In 1987, they added farming. The company ships a variety of products 365 days a year: melons, sweet corn, citrus, and asparagus.
Bill’s family is committed to the business. Bill and his brother, Joe III, have four sons between them. All four are involved now, as well as Joe’s son-in-law; they cover everything from production to packaging to marketing and operations. They’re carrying on Joseph Sr.’s passion for farming, but they’re also testing new ways of doing business. Five Crowns installed a 2.2 megawatt solar plant that provides 85 percent of the power needs in their 150,000-square-foot cold storage facility.
“We’re very proud of doing our part environmentally and for sustainability,” Bill says. “We are reinvesting in our community with clean energy and take our responsibility as stewards of the land seriously.”
“Food safety is our highest priority; we comply with the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board’s mandatory program and its 156-checkpoint government audit,” Bill says. “We’ve worked very hard to put this mandatory food safety program together. At any point, the state of California is welcome to audit our fields. We agree with the food safety program and appreciate that we are always on the hook to be 100 percent compliant.
“The state of California and the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board make California cantaloupes the safest cantaloupes that you can buy domestically and internationally,” he continues. “Without question, California takes food safety very seriously. At the end of the day, we want to give all consumers, including our friends and family, the safest cantaloupes possible.”
Five Crowns is currently operated by the third and fourth generation of the family; however, Bill hopes he’ll see the fifth join the business.
“My brother has six grandchildren and our first is on the way!” he says. “We are excited about the interest our children have shown in the business. We hope to continue to grow and hope that the kids continue to have a passion. We want to keep growing and continue to look to the future. Joe and I spend quite a bit of time forecasting our businesses’ future — and our industry is always changing.”