Costa Farms Wins With Its Emphasis On Team, Solutions, Growth

The current owners of Costa Farms (left to right) are Jose “Joche” Smith, Maria Costa-Smith, and Jose Costa.
The current owners of Costa Farms (left to right) are Jose “Joche” Smith, Maria Costa-Smith, and Jose Costa.

The team at Costa Farms is driven to win. Winning is part of the culture that’s ingrained in the operation, as deeply and inherently as its Cuban-American heritage and as broadly as its operations around the globe. Team members thrive on Costa Farms’ mantra, “Humble, Hungry, Hustle,” and they live it daily, constantly working to improve operations and never satisfied with the status quo.

It’s because of that drive, and that team, and that hustle, and that hunger, that Costa Farms has grown to become one of the largest greenhouse operations in the world, and why it has been named International Grower of the Year by the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH). Costa Farms is the first U.S. operation to be considered for the award, which will be announced this month at a gala during the IPM Essen show in Germany.

“Everybody wants to be a winner; everybody wants to be part of a winning team and feel special,” says Maria Costa Smith. “Any recognition for who we are today is 100% because of the team, and it gives us joy to see their pride. It is a huge motivation to continue to drive excellence for our organization.”

Costa Farms Has Thrived Under The Current Team

Costa Farms is a third-generation greenhouse operation, led by CEO and President Jose “Joche” Smith, Executive Vice President – Color Division Maria Costa Smith, and Executive Vice President – Foliage Division Jose Costa. The three owners are joined by a team of seven executives, including Charlie Acevedo, Vice President, Sales and Marketing; Doug Watson, Vice President of Information Technology; Peter Freyre, Vice President, Foliage Operation; Arianna Cabrera, General Legal Council; Jose Alvarez, CFO; Mike Estrada, Vice President, Human Resources; and LJ Contillo, Vice President, Color Operations.

Established in 1961, Costa Farms was leveled in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida. Not one greenhouse from before the hurricane still stands today, and all three of the current owners, then very young and fresh out of graduate school and college, were called on to take immediate leadership roles to rebuild.

“It was a very humbling experience, and a horrible thing to go through, but it made us stronger,” Jose says. “When you think of a plant that comes back really strong after you cut it back, that’s what happened to us.”

Today, the operation spans 15,071,760 square feet of environmentally controlled greenhouses, 747 acres of shadehouses, and 1,392 acres of field production. After several acquisitions and expansions, it operates in South Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, the Dominican Republic, and China. Costa Farms continues to innovate and grow, and to drive solutions for its customers, which includes other growers, retailers, and end consumers.

All of this is possible, the owners say, because of the operation’s team of talented, dynamic, driven people. That team is the Costa Family — all 4,000-plus employees year-round, and 5,500 in the peak season.

“We have a great team and culture, and there is always an appetite to want to win all the time,” Joche says. “That’s what drives us to succeed.”

Editor’s Note: Look for upcoming one-on-one interviews with three of Costa Farms’ extraordinary plantsmen on GreenhouseGrower.com.

The Best Kind Of Social Networking

Because the team makes all things possible for Costa Farms, the operation gives back to its team in a number of ways. All employees’ children are eligible to apply for college scholarships that pay as much as 75% of tuition. And it’s not a condition to come back and work at Costa Farms, but that’s what many of the recipients of this scholarship do, Jose Costa says. At any given time, there may be as many as 30 students enrolled in the program, and it’s one that the operation is trying to expand and get its team members to use more, he says.

Costa Farms works closely with an entity called Alfalit, a worldwide literacy organization that offers programs in literacy, basic education, and job and skills training, among others. Through this partnership, more than 100 people within the Costa Farms’ South Florida locations have learned to read and write, and graduated from the program, which they are encouraged to participate in during work hours. Costa Farms’ human resources team has expanded the literacy program to its other farms in North Carolina and South Carolina, to offer workers there the same benefits.

Finally, Costa Farms’ sizable monetary contribution to a local free clinic in South Florida provides medical care to many of its team members. Maria’s involvement on the board of Homestead Hospital, the area’s largest hospital system, has initiated this development. In South Carolina, Costa Layman’s Health Fair celebrated its 10th year in 2015. The fair, organized by Debbie Layman, has provided more than 2,500 free preventative and personalized health screenings for team members over the years, including free lab work.

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