MARICOPA — Family farms were once the lifeblood of Maricopa, back when it was a much smaller, unincorporated area. Now, much of that land has transformed into subdivisions, and agriculture doesn’t have the same impact on the city’s economy.
However, one family farm based out of the Valley is going against that trend, bringing its highly touted vegetable crops to Maricopa.
Duncan Family Farms is a major producer of what is referred to as “salad greens” such as spinach, arugula, kale, romaine and culinary herbs. Duncan is known for being organic and has thus become a hit for brands that sell organic produce at grocery stores. Duncan’s logo might not appear on the packaging consumers pick up, but the produce is present around the country.
The farming company is run by Arnott Duncan. He branched off from his family’s farm, which was located in the southern Phoenix area, in 1985 to create his own in Buckeye. According to Patty Emmert, community relations and marketing manager, the farm’s produce became so popular that clients were wanting more supply year-round. So they started farms in California, New York and Oregon so they could always be in season.
With development continuing to encroach on the land in Buckeye, Duncan wanted a nearby plot that could expand his operations in Arizona. The land in Maricopa, at 39126 W. Bowlin Road, turned out to be just what they needed. Work on the land started a couple years ago, and they had their first harvest in Maricopa in 2019.
“We are a solution for our customers because we’re not growing necessarily with everyone else,” Emmert said. “We do that so if they have challenges in (heavily farmed) areas such as weather, we’re able to be there for our customers.”
The first harvest in Maricopa included broccoli and cauliflower along with the typical salad greens. Everything went well in that first harvest, and Emmert said they have hopes for expanding their Maricopa farm.
In the early 1990s, Duncan and his wife Kathleen branched out into agri-tourism, offering field trips for school groups and a fruit stand designed to bring people from the city to the farm to learn more about rural life. This turned out to be very popular, as during its peak the program brought up to 40,000 people to the farm.
When nearby Luke Air Force Base changed security policies following 9/11, it meant large crowds could no longer gather at Duncan Family Farms, so the educational program had to be cut, returning the focus of the farm back to purely growing produce.
While Duncan got into organic farming during a hot time for that market, Emmert said there are ebbs and flows with the demand for that type of produce. With COVID-19, there was initially a little bit of a dip, but as people looked at how to stay healthy while stuck at home, they returned to those organic greens. It also helped that Duncan contracts with grocery stores more than restaurants.
“We have got an extremely impressive farmworker and food safety program,” Emmert said. “Even pre-COVID, that was the top priority on our farm. Our people have to be safe, and the food has to be wholesome and healthy going out.”
Emmert said Duncan Family Farms meets all challenges — whether it be a pandemic or water issues or anything else thrown their way — by remembering what has been passed down from generation to generation, which is to always do the right thing. It’s something the company expects to be true when the next generation takes over.
“Our culture is based around not cheating,” Emmert said. “It’s harder, but it’s better. Arnott was raised on that, and now he stands by that.”