Growing is a family business

ttompkins@bradenton.comNovember 10, 2013 

They hit the bottom of the pails with a sound like rhythmic drumming. The Romas, the Italians, the plums -- whatever you prefer to call the pale, green tomatoes, they plopped into pails as a brisk wind blew through the plants at West Coast Tomato's Farm #3 in Parrish.

D.C. McClure, fourth-generation tomato grower and president of West Coast Tomato, climbed to the top of a truck filled with bins of tomatoes and smiled across the picked fruit and fields spread out below.

"We need to marshal the forces to where the battle is," said McClure with a smile.

Out in the fields the plants are grown and harvested a bit like staged dominoes; to be ready in succession and ever-changing due to market values or other motivating factors such as the weather. McClure has 300 acres at Farm #3 in production, and though there is a carefully planned schedule, McClure explained the ability to react and be fluid is important in agriculture. "It's totally subjective, there's no black and white."

McClure, a graduate of the University of Florida, didn't end his relationship with his alma mater after he earned a degree in agriculture. The family business maintains a working relationship with the school's research department, working to improve the yield and pest-resistance of the plants.

D.C.'s great grandfather's business is still a family affair. McClure's mother and sister, Connie McClure and Marianne Spencer, respectively, do legal work for the company as brother-in-law Bob Spencer is president of the packing house in Palmetto. Nephew Todd McClure is involved with field production supervision.

Standing in a long row of round tomato plants, McClure cut a tomato in two with his pocket knife, inspected it briefly then tossed it to the sandy soil.

"Not ready. Nope, not ready yet," he said as he walked down the rows of plants.

The fields will be ready to host Manatee County's annual Farm City Week bus tour Nov. 22, when visitors will explore four historic agricultural operations to get a taste of how local products get to market.

The tour will include Manatee Floral, A.P. Bell Star Fish Company, Strickland Ranch and, of course, West Coast Tomato/McClure Farms.

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