Ron Martella spends his workday eating walnuts. All day long, as he makes the rounds of his family’s walnut processing plant in Hughson, California, Martella grabs walnuts, cracks them open with his fist and nibbles on the meat inside.
“They’re very good for you,” Martella observes proudly. “They’re six times healthier than other nuts, because of all the oils in them.”
Martella’s Grower Direct Nut Company processed nearly 100 million pounds of walnuts during the 2016 growing season, many of them in a new storage facility that can hold up to 20 million pounds of walnuts at a time. In Grower Direct’s first season, in 2004, the company processed just 4 million pounds of walnuts, with hopes of reaching 10 million. Instead, Grower Direct has exceeded its expectations tenfold, thanks in large part to strong relationships with customers.
The company’s walnuts are now shipped to 25 countries around the world, including industrial food processors, retail stores and produce markets. That’s a testament to the entire Martella family, which includes Ron’s son Aaron, Grower Direct’s president; daughter Jennifer, the sales and marketing director; and son-in-law Lucio Salazar, who has optimized the company’s facilities as chief operations officer.
Since its founding, Grower Direct has been a customer of Yosemite Farm Credit, one of CoBank’s California-based affiliated associations. Today the company is one of Yosemite’s largest customers. CoBank has participated in the relationship since 2007, providing balance sheet capacity as well as ancillary financial services like cash management and export financing.
“We have a lot of requests from other bankers, but we tell them we’re not inclined to move,” says Martella. “No matter who we work with at Farm Credit, we’ve been impressed with their straightforward approach and enthusiasm for our growing business.”
Stan Chance, vice president and senior relationship manager with Yosemite Farm Credit, says the Martella family is a “classic success story in California agriculture.”
“They are wonderful people, with an incredible work ethic, integrity and a huge commitment to quality,” Chance says. “It’s a privilege to serve customers like that and to be able to contribute to their success.”