One of the Lompoc Valley’s oldest agriculture businesses is set to call it quits this spring, creating some sadness among area food providers who had come to rely on its local products.
Lompoc Valley Seed and Milling, which has been in operation since the 1950s, is slated to be shut down in May, according to Bob Campbell, who has owned the company with his wife, Gerry, since 2006. Campbell cited the downturn of the local dry bean industry as the main cause of the closure. At its height, he said, the business was cleaning, packing and shipping 10 million to 14 million pounds of seeds per year, a far cry from the current workload.
“Over the last 15 to 20 years, it has slowly declined to where we’re now doing 4 million pounds per year,” Campbell said of the company, which is located at 1119 W. Laurel Ave. “So it’s just not a profitable business anymore. We have made changes over the years, where we’re now doing more retail business and more specialty vegetable seeds — like parsley and broccoli and cauliflower and things like that, like we didn’t use to do.”
Since making the decision to close, Campbell said he has heard from disappointed customers both near and far. Among them, he said, is a company based in the Netherlands to which Lompoc Valley Seed and Milling had been shipping sweet pea seeds over the past decade.
Lompoc-based chef Conrad Gonzales is among the local regulars feeling that pain.
Gonzales prepares food for the Valle Eatery in Lompoc’s Hilton Garden Inn, as well as for Vallefresh Catering and Vallefresh Tacos, which are based in Los Alamos but serve the entire region. He said he was “bummed” when he heard the news of the Lompoc Valley Seed and Milling closure.
“Not just because I source for my businesses, but the facility has been a staple for the Lompoc community since the ’50s and these sorts of facilities that process locally grown food seem to be diminishing in this country,” Gonzales said. “I only wish that more of the public and local restaurants would have supported them [so] they could have stayed in business.”
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Campbell said the overall drop in dry bean facilities along the California coast is further proof that the business was simply unsustainable.
He hasn’t ruled out reopening in a different form, however.
“We have some other property where we may build a smaller facility so we can continue our retail business, but I haven’t made that decision yet,” Campbell said. “But that is a possibility. We’re kind of thinking about that and running the numbers as we speak.”
Just in case, Campbell said that he has been asking for contact information from many of the business’ regular customers so that he can direct them to the new operation, if he and his family ultimately decide to go in that direction.
“If we want to build another one, we can build on a much smaller scale and be more efficient,” he said.
In addition to owning the business, Campbell also owns the land on which it is located. He said he is in the process of selling that and is unsure of what the next buyer plans to do with it.
Campbell, who owns other agriculture businesses in the area, said he and his family plan to remain in the Lompoc Valley and continue their other ventures.
Regardless of what happens with the Lompoc Valley Seed and Milling property, Campbell said that he, like many of his customers, will also be unhappy to see the company exit the Lompoc business landscape.
“It kind of even saddens me to see it go, but you have to be a realist and recognize that times change and that it’s just not a profitable industry anymore here on the coast of California,” he said. “We have to recognize that and make the changes necessary to stay profitable in the farming business.”
Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.