2011 FARMER OF THE YEAR
If farm performance were a graded assignment, Bob Crouch, Farm Bureau’s 2011 Farmer of the Year, would be at the top of his class. Though he sold the farm to his son, Gary Crouch, and head grower, Roberto Ramirez, three years ago, it was his efforts that grew Mountain Meadow Mushroom from a farm in bankruptcy to a business that now employs over 100 people.
Born in Cook County, Illinois, Bob grew up on his grandfather’s dairy farm in Wisconsin apart from his mother and father who didn’t have enough money to keep him with them in the city of Chicago. Bob later moved to Attica, Indiana when his father got a job with a local radio station. He attended high school there. After high school graduation, Bob says he stuck around and chose a local university. “Attica was 30 miles from Lafayette where Purdue University is. So, it was close and it was cheap and I was able to afford it. At that time tuition was $65 dollars a semester. I worked in the summer and was able to make that much money and go to school.” Bob graduated from Purdue University and a few months later entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He took a degree in Aeronautical Engineering and started his career in science.
After graduating from MIT Bob worked for the Allison division of General Motors designing gas turbines for airplanes and became the Corporate Chief Scientist - Propulsion. In 1961 through 1962 Bob was “loaned” to the White House and served as a scientific advisor to President Kennedy. As one member of a group of four advisors Bob advised the president on, “a lot of different programs,” he says. “The president was involved in lots of different projects. The space program - specifically the Mercury program - was designed to obtain the information we needed about man’s capability in space flight so that we could design the Apollo.”
Following his service to the White House, Bob returned to Lockheed Missiles and Space Co. as the Assistant Director of Research. He later joined North American Aviation Corporation Planning which merged with Rockwell International. He became Operational President of three divisions. In 1984 Bob retired from Rockwell International. He bought a small mushroom farm off North Broadway in Escondido and called it Mountain Meadow Mushroom.
How does an aeronautical engineer get to owning and renovating a mushroom farm? Bob says dryly, “Well I retired and it was something to do. It was strictly numbers. I visited some other farms, and I just thought I would try it and it worked. The farm was in bankruptcy when I bought it and at the time was growing about 500 pounds a week. I built it up to where it was growing 20,000 pounds a day. And that’s how you make money.” Asked whether he used any new scientific methods or innovations he said, “No. I just built more rooms and reduced the time to grow the mushrooms from 63 days to 50. I was just improving productivity. I wasn’t using brand new methods; I was just doing it better.” In 2008, Bob sold the farm to his son Gary Crouch and grower Roberto Ramirez. “The farm I purchased is the same farm that exists today. My son and Roberto have taken it over and improved it even more. Gary and Roberto make a great team.”
Even as he built Mountain Meadow Mushroom, Bob kept himself busy staying involved in his community. He served on the San Diego County Farm Bureau Board of Directors for many years and was active in the Future Home Site committee from 2006 to 2008. He served on the board of directors of Western Farm Credit Bank for eight years. At the same time he and his wife, Elizabeth, were major fundraisers for the Escondido YMCA raising over $2 million dollars for the organization to renovate its pool and gym. From 1998 to 2007 he was on the board of directors of the Palomar Pomerado Hospital Foundation. He is currently on the board of the San Diego Symphony and is a past director of the San Diego Chamber Orchestra. He has also served on the board of the San Diego North Economic Development Council and the California State University, San Marcos Presidents Council.
San Diego County Farm Bureau Past Farmers of the Year