Generation Next: Anthony D’Ottavio living his dream
Anthony D’Ottavio grew up in a New Jersey farming family and had no doubt, at a very young age, that he would follow the family legacy into the business.
“I’m a farm kid,” he said. “I was born on the farm and have been working on it since I was a little kid. I remember sitting at the window every day watching my grandfather pass by on the tractor. I was born and raised in Vineland, NJ, and have no plans on leaving. I love Vineland.”
The D’Ottavio farming roots date back to the turn of the last century when Pio D’Ottavio initiated the farming business and then son Callie D’Ottavio cleared 40 acres of land in the area in 1903 and forged the company’s produce path with sweet potatoes and broccoli. In 1953, brothers Ronald and Art D’Ottavio took over the farm from their father, further expanded it, and diversified into many more vegetables. Michael and his brother Leon became the fourth generation of D’Ottavios to farm the land in New Jersey and make produce their life’s work.
In 1992, Michael D’Ottavio formed M. D’Ottavio Produce Inc. to expand the customer base and move the family operation into new arenas. The company, of which he is president, now has several entities, including farms in New Jersey and Florida, the much-expanded distribution facility, a packing plant, and a logistics company. They farm dozens of commodities including wet vegetables, dry vegetables, herbs and fruits. Naming a few of their top items, Anthony mentioned blueberries and blackberries, several of the major herbs, squash, peppers, and cabbage. The sell sheet lists dozens more. “We grow everything,” he quipped.
They sell to retailers around the country as well as foodservice operators and wholesalers. In addition, they buy from other local farmers to augment production and help the local farm community.
It is into this vertical business model that Anthony was born in 1997. He attended a local private high school called St. Augustine Preparatory School and went to college at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
D’Ottavio was helping out on the farm when he was a very young child. “I started working making boxes after school when I was in sixth grade. He quickly graduated out of boxes into washing trailers and building pallets. “By eighth grade, I was driving a forklift and unloading trucks.” By the time he was 21, D’Ottavio was a seasonal buyer purchasing herbs — mint, cilantro, and basil — from local growers. He worked through high school and college and continued to take on new responsibilities. His product expertise grew and the list of products he was responsible for expanded.
At St. Joseph’s University, he graduated with a degree in Food Marketing, no doubts where his future would take him. After college, he came back to the operation full-time, working mostly on the farm. D’Ottavio stated he spent a lot of time shadowing his father and listening to him connect with customers. “My Dad is an admirable man and is well respected in our community. He has taught me the meaning of hard work; his unwavering determination, relentless mindset and persistence makes it hard for me to keep up with him.”
About a year ago, D’Ottavio joined the sales team and currently is involved in many different aspects of the company. He shuttles between the farm and the main office, involved in sales and buying, and checking the crops to make sure they meet expectations. At age 24, with a relatively young father running the company, Anthony has not yet formed any long-range goals. “I want to help the company grow and expand into a variety of more products, meanwhile increasing the number of employees while maintaining the quality of our products.”
He works alongside his father, sister Erica, and with his 80-year-old grandmother, Elaine, who can still be seen at any one of the farms, packinghouse, and warehouse as she’s still very involved in the family business.
It is a difficult task to choose which of his daily jobs D’Ottavio likes best. He clearly loves all aspects of the business from the field to the retailer’s distribution center. “If I had to choose I’d say the farm, I love being on the farm, it’s in my blood,” said D’Ottavio.
His daily routine takes him to the farm about three times every day to check production and quality and gauge inventory along with sales.
D’Ottavio was an athlete; he’s played hockey since the age of four all the way through to high school and his father got him into mixed martial arts. “I competed in MMA in both high school and college and still train today. My father helped me train when I competed and never missed a competition,” he said.
D’Ottavio explained that MMA combines Muay Thai, kickboxing, wrestling and Jiu Jitsu in hand-to-hand combat with an opponent. “You box, you wrestle, you kick, you use your elbows — basically you use whatever you can against your opponent,” he said.
D’Ottavio has competed in many tournaments on the amateur level and feels he’s pretty good. “I won back-to-back NAGA championships,” he said, noting that NAGA stands for the North American Grappling Association, and is considered the premier grappling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu organization in this country.
Combatants typically compete under different weight classification. D’Ottavio has competed as both a bantamweight (135 pounds) and a featherweight (145 pounds). “Right now, I am training about three nights a week, but I am not competing,” he said. “I competed more when I was in college when I had more time. Now with a full-time job, it’s more difficult. But I enjoy staying in shape and living a healthy lifestyle.”
D’Ottavio’s production is moving into its peak season with summer approaching. “In July we typically have everything growing on our New Jersey farm and are in peak production. In the three or four winter months, I have a little more time.”
In closing, D’Ottavio said, “I am eager to see what the future of D’Ottavio Produce holds for me and my family and how I can personally contribute to the legacy.”