Meet the Grower: Rich Collins of California Endive Farms

In the spring of 1831 Jan Lammers returned from the Belgian War of Independence to his farm near Brussels where he had stored chicory roots in his cellar while he away. He had intended to dry and then roast them for use as a coffee substitute. However, his chicory roots, having rested several months in the dark, damp confines of his cellar had achieved a different result. They had sprouted small, white, leafy shoots from the top of the root. Curious, he tried the leaves and found them to be tender, moist and crunchy with a pleasantly mild bitter taste. Thus, a new vegetable was discovered – endive!

“Not only did I not know how to farm, I chose a crop that needs to be grown twice!” – Rich Collins

Keep reading for Rich’s story!

About a century and a half later in 1978 a young American named Rich Collins, bent on becoming a farmer, made his own accidental discovery of endive while working as a dishwasher in the kitchen of Restaurant La Salle in Sacramento. The owner, preparing braised endives for a special VIP birthday dinner and knowing his young employee aspired to a life as a farmer, told the wide-eyed youth that he should consider growing endives as he had just paid four dollars a pound for them! Fascinated by the prospect of producing this elegant vegetable, Rich bought some seeds and planted them in the family vegetable garden. Shortly thereafter, Rich gave a call to Stanley Corriea, a longtime family friend, owner of Stanley Produce in San Francisco and an importer of endives from Europe. It was during a follow-up meeting that Stanley not only volunteered to buy endive, but also to finance the operation. In 1983, Rich launched Rebel Farms and began commercial production of endive in Vacaville, CA.

“Rebel Farms was my not so subtle message to all the nay sayers who insisted that quality endives could not be produced in California.” – Rich Collins

On Thanksgiving Day 1983, the first box was picked and shortly thereafter Stanley received the very first shipment of endive. Stanley Produce is still a customer today! Many doubted that endive could be successfully grown in California and, as Rich is quick to say, it took him a decade of trial and error to finally get a handle on it. Today, California Endive Farms operates a state-of-the-art facility in Rio Vista, CA. It remains the largest American producer and a leading worldwide innovator in improving the complex process of growing high quality endives.