Unique crop has Italian accent

Marc Marchini, a fourth generation Californian, farms with his family in Merced County. The primary crop is radicchio, an Italian chicory.

LE GRANDE, Calif. — There is a touch of Italian heritage in Marc Marchini’s primary crop.

“I am the fourth generation of California farmers,” he said. “Florindo Marchini immigrated in the 1920s to Livingston, Calif., from Lucca, Italy, for an opportunity to work and make a living. He farmed tomatoes alongside my grandfather Joe. Jeff and Joe started the radicchio business and combined 80 years of farming experience. For the last 10 years my brother Nic and I farm 5,000 acres alongside Jeff and Joe now.” Radicchio is Marchini Farms’ main crop. They grow, pack and ship 365 days per year and market it all over the world. Radicchio — or Radicchio di Chicchio — is a leafy Italian chicory that is native to Northern Italy. A relative of endive, radicchio is sometimes referred in English as “Italian chicory.” For example, Radicchio comes in many different shapes and colors. Radicchio di Chioggia has Burgundy–red leaves with white ribs and is round, resembling cabbage.

Marc said he always knew he would work in agriculture. Although he grew up in the fields working summer jobs and weekends doing farm work, his heart was always in management of sales, marketing and packing house operations.

He almost got a degree in winemaking to become a winemaker, but he now makes his own wine on the side and jokes that he has the “best of both worlds.”

“Radicchio is very hard to grow,” Marc said. “It must be transplanted and the planting windows are short. Weeding is always a burden, pest pressure is heavy most of the year, and harvest must be done on time. We are the largest supplier of radicchio I know of.”

Chicory is gaining popularity. The bitter flavor and powerful colors make it a unique ingredient, and it’s healthy, too. Marc said he loves to grill it on the barbecue and finish it with a balsamic glaze, walnuts, and white raisins.

“Marc Marchini is an integral member of J. Marchini Farms and highly involved in Merced County agriculture,” said Breanne Ramos, executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau. “He has been a member of the Merced County Young Farmers and Ranchers for a number of years and I’m excited to see his continued growth.”

Although business is strong, Marc admits there are problems for California’s farmers.

“The biggest challenge facing California farming is water,” he said. “Our surface water for farming is being limited by the water board every year. More water storage could solve this problem. SGMA (the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act) is coming into play quickly. All of California is in an overdraft situation and in other areas such as Le Grand we are critically over drafted. Groundwater extraction will need to be limited in the short term and farmland will be fallowed, forcing the lower value crops out of the market.”

Marc Marchini

Hometown: Le Grand, Calif.

Occupation: Vice president of operations, J. Marchini Farms

Family: Married, two children

Personal quote: “Focus on the little things; the big things will take care of themselves.”

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