Peri Family Heritage
More than 100 years ago, three ambitious and hopeful Italian immigrants chased a dream straight into the harbor of New York City. It was there, amid scores of excited, shouting passengers, that the first leg of their voyage ended. And it was there that the real journey began. The New World offered the three brothers the simple promise of opportunity — that with a little luck and a lot of hard work, they could one day farm land of their own. Standing on that ship — tired, hungry, fearful yet fiercely determined — the brothers had no idea that their humble dreams would bear such amazing fruit. Because in just three generations, that small seasonal family farm inspired a multi-million dollar operation with over 200 employees — one of the biggest onion seed-to-store companies in the world. And the roots of that farm remain the same to this day. It’s an enterprise built on the solid backbone of family and good old-fashioned hard work.
It was 1902 when Constantino Peri and his two brothers, Sabatino and Bruno, began the journey that would take them halfway across the globe from their native Italian village of Monte Catini. “My grandfather came over to here to farm,” says Constantino’s grandson and third-generation farmer, David Peri. “That was his dream.”
After disembarking in New York City, the three brothers headed west in search of land. Stepping off the train in Reno, Nevada, they began their new life in the American West working the mines of nearby Virginia City. Over the next decade, the industrious brothers would find work where they could, odd jobs with no common purpose beyond bringing them one step closer to their dream — land of their own to farm.
“[My grandfather] bootlegged whiskey and he had some bars — He did what he had to do,” says David. “And when he got enough money, he went and bought that ranch. He left the bars, left Virginia City and went down the other side of the hill into Lockwood.”
By 1912, the brothers had made the journey back to Italy to wed three sisters, Narcisa, Eda and Rosa Mosconi. They returned to Dayton, Nevada, where they began farming 50 acres of leased land. And within six years of bringing their young wives back to America, Constantino and Sabatino were finally in a position to realize their dream. In 1918, the brothers purchased 170 acres of land for $14,000, including water rights.
“Everything was done the hard way,” David says of his grandfather’s farm. “They were hauling produce all the way into Reno, leaving at five in the morning and not getting home until ten at night, with a horse and a buggy. So you think about how much time and effort it took to accomplish then what would be considered a very small task in today’s world.”
Like other Depression-era families, the Peris struggled. “It’d almost bring tears to your eyes, they were so poor,” David says of his ancestors. “Half of them didn’t even have shoes on their feet.”
The family raised nine children on the family farm, all of whom were expected to help out. “It didn’t matter if you were five years old or 20,” says David. “You pitched in. It was a matter of survival, of putting clothes on your back and a roof over your head.”
While the entire family worked the farm in the early years, it was identical twin sons James and Joseph who would ultimately continue the family legacy. At just 14 years old, they would quit school to run the farm when Constantino became ill. And three years later, the boys would take over completely when their father passed away.
“Hard work, that’s all they knew,“ David says of his father and uncle. It was an upbringing that made an impression on the boys, something that became clear when Joseph reared his own family. “He raised me the way he was raised.”
As far back as he can remember David has loved to farm. “Six years old, I was driving a tractor,” he says. Two years later, he would be delivering produce to customers in the valley. David remembers making the trek to nearby Sacramento, California, hauling produce to one of the very first Raley’s markets. “We were truck farmers,” he recalls. “We peddled anything that we could grow.” It was the family business, after all, and like the generation before, the whole family pitched in. “My dad and uncle tried to push all of us, just work, work, work, and all you did was the farm,” David says. But out of six of us kids, I’m really the only one that wanted to farm. I honestly think it’s either in your blood or it’s not.”
That sentiment rang true in 1976, when David, fresh out of high school, began farming full-time. He had big plans for expansion and gazing around the family farm, he understood there was nowhere to go. That’s why, just three years later, David left the Lockwood ranch and with the help of his father and uncle, opened Peri & Sons Farms, Inc. in Yerington, Nevada.
“My goal was someday I wanted to grow 500 acres of onions,” he says, a commodity he chose due to its versatility and shelf life.
Year after year, as surely as he has harvested one crop after another, David has grown the farm. Today, he farms over 7,500 acres. He went from leasing land to purchasing acreage in the 1980s, and his original decision to grow onions in Yerington has proven sound. But other decisions made along the way were just as shrewd. One of those choices was to become a leader in food safety and purity practices, another to implement water management techniques. For David, these were necessary steps to stay competitive in an industry that exploded from small family farms into big business. And while there’s no doubt that the face of agriculture has changed, David has shown his ability to change with it. “Call it my eighth sense, but I’ve learned how to grow,” he says. “I guess I’m a bit of a visionary.”
For the Peri family, it always comes back to hard work and family. It’s what Constantino and his brothers knew. It’s what James and Joseph knew. And it’s what David knows today, working alongside his wife, Pamela, their two children, and hundreds of satisfied employees.
And what would Constantino think of the family farm today? “I’m sure he’s probably pretty happy with the direction I’m taking it,” David says, “Because his vision was to farm and survive and I’m still trying to do that. I hope he’s proud. I’m going to ask him when I get there.”