Family Owned Business Hits Stride With California’s Agricultural Clients

Cleanliness is critical for crews from Southwest Site Services as they work at California’s bountiful fruit and vegetable growing operations.
Family Owned Business Hits Stride With California’s Agricultural Clients
Technician Lucas Antunes washes his Ford F-650 vacuum truck service vehicle in the Southwest Site Services yard.

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THE TEAM

Steve Morales Sr. and his wife Irene own Southwest Site Services in Corona, Calif. Irene handles accounts receivable, their daughter Stephanie works in the office, and son Steve Jr., assistant manager of operations, works as much as he can while studying to be an opera singer. One secretary and three drivers round out the staff, some of who work out of a small satellite office in Irvine, Calif.

COMPANY HISTORY

After immigrating to the United States, Morales Sr. began a career with a national trash hauling and portable restroom company in 1988. Twelve years later, the company separated the portable restroom business from the trash side. In 2006, Morales left and started his own portable sanitation company.

Today, the company has 500 units and five service vehicles. They specialize in the agricultural industry and have created specially designed trailers with integrated units to help comply with the stringent safety requirements of the industry. About 30 percent of their work is for construction sites and special events and a small portion of their income is derived from concrete washoffs and temporary fencing.

MAKING CONNECTIONS

The Morales family got a big break in the beginning from one of their contacts, a large strawberry grower in the area. “That opened up a lot of doors for us, having him as a reference,” Morales Jr. says “Ever since then, all the agriculture in Irvine has been ours at one point or another.”

THE MAIN EVENT

Pumpkin harvesting begins as early as August in Southern California, peaking in October heading into Halloween, then tapering off the rest of the year. The company provides portable restrooms for field workers. And for the month of October, they provide units for the general public at Tanaka Farms, one of the largest growers in the area, which holds its annual U-Pick Pumpkin Patch every day during October. Besides allowing visitors to wander the fields and pick their own pumpkins (and other veggies) off the vine, the event includes a petting zoo, wagon rides, a corn maze and Pumpkinmania, the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-off and Contest.

BY THE NUMBERS

The company works for the ten main farmers in the area. A few units are kept on the farms year-round, but the numbers increase substantially during the fall harvest season. One unit is needed for every 20 pickers. During the harvest, large farms might take as many as 50. Smaller ones may need only four. At the peak of the season, the company has about 300 units out on all the farms combined.

For field workers, the company uses green PolyJohn Enterprises PJ3 restrooms. Units have integrated hand-wash stations (including soap, sanitizer and paper towel dispensers) built into the backs of them and are incorporated into the company-designed trailers. Per safety regulations, the trailers have catch basins to prevent dirty water from touching the ground. Trailers hold between one and four units. “Farmers like having a variety because sometimes they won’t need as many pickers on a certain field,” Morales Jr. says.

For the public event at Tanaka Farms, they brought in 20 tan free-standing Five Peaks Aspen units, five PolyJohn ADA-accessible units and 10 PolyJohn Bravo hand-wash stations. They were placed in five areas along the public routes.

LET’S ROLL

The company delivers their custom restroom trailers to farms using their fleet of Ford service vehicles. Although trailers can be train-linked when moving them around on a farm, highway regulations prevent them from pulling more than one trailer at a time on public roads. Trailers are taken to a central location and farm personnel haul them around the fields where needed.

KEEPIN’ IT CLEAN

At the end of each day, units are rounded up by the farm workers and taken off field, back to a central location for cleaning. This not only facilitates the cleaning process but is a legal requirement to prevent contamination of the fields.

Wearing coveralls, gloves, rubber boots and company shirts, team members head out to the farms seven days a week, at 1 a.m. Servicing must be complete before the pickers arrive at 6 a.m. “It works out pretty good for us,” Morales Sr. says, “because they want us to start early, and at construction sites you’re not allowed to start before 7. So we take care of the farms first, then we’re ready to start on the construction.” Units for the public Pumpkin Patch event are cleaned daily before Tanaka Farms opens.

The company has five 2002-2007 Ford service vehicles. The F-750 was built out by Progress Tank with a 1,500-gallon waste/500-gallon freshwater aluminum tank. The others are company-built — the F-650 has a 1,000-gallon waste/500-gallon freshwater steel tank; the F-450, a 750-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater steel tank; the Super Duty, a 650-gallon waste/250-gallon freshwater steel tank; and the F-350, a 450-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater stainless tank. All have Masport, Inc. pumps.

Using products from ET Chem Lab, Inc., units are washed, pumped and refilled. Dirty water is vacuumed out of the catch basins and chlorine tablets are dropped into the tanks to prevent algae and bacteria buildup.

SAFETY FIRST

The pace picks up substantially during the harvest, but at no time does anyone let their guard down on public health regulations. Food safety is the number one concern and sanitation is a big part of that. To keep up with constantly changing federal and state laws the company is constantly experimenting with new trailer designs. Currently, they’re working on a hands-free operation. “We have to keep on top of it,” Morales Jr. says. “As farmers’ needs evolve, we’re trying to keep up with them so they have the most sanitary restrooms.”



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