Young entrepreneur invests in tomatoes

Gina Zanutto
Caine and Mike Centanni, grandson and grandfather, respectively, do the majority of the field work in their family business. Janet, Caine’s grandmother, takes care of the marketing, and Caine’s cousins and siblings manage the sales.

Ascension Parish youth Caine Centanni, 15, is preparing for his July tomato harvest.

“This tomato business starts in January with the planting of seeds and ends when we pick up everything in July,” Janet Centanni, Caine’s grandmother, said.

Caine’s family business, which includes his grandparents, his mother, his siblings and his cousins, is a lucrative  backyard growing operation as well as a family bonding experience. Their company specializes in Celebrity tomatoes, a strain of the fruit which does not require pruning and is resilient in high temperatures.

“We sell Celebrity tomatoes.  grown in the back yard, sold at a stand in the front yard,” Janet said. “We sell tomatoes.  Just tomatoes.  We usually have some cucumbers and squash at the beginning of the season, but we just give those away.”

The business, first called “Me and Paw-Paw Produce,” was originally  used as a means for Caine to purchase a used four-wheeler. After three years of tilling and sewing his fields, Caine secured the vehicle, but at his grandparents’ behest, he planned to save the remainder after doling out salaries for his cousins and siblings.

“Five years ago, Paw-Paw and I decided to  expand our garden and try to sell some of our tomatoes,” Caine said. “We always grew tomatoes.  Maybe it was our Italian heritage, but we were always good at it. We tried different varieties, but eventually decided that Celebrity tasted the best, and that I could make some money at it.”

The majority of the stand’s customers are area residents, neighbors and friends. Mike Centanni, Caine’s grandfather, stated that their customers “appreciate a good product for a good price.”

 “All of our customers are local,” Mike said. “When they see the sign show up by our driveway, they  just start coming by.  We sell the tomatoes for $1.25 a pound, and the customers pick out the ones they want.”

Caine explained that he opted to plant seeds rather than purchase adult plants due to the cost, but this family project is proving more difficult and time-consuming that he originally anticipated.

 “I had to learn how to prepare my garden, care for my plants, figure out how to properly water them so that they would produce, and calculate how much I had to spend to get them going,” Caine said. “It takes a lot more time than I thought it would.  It is really hot, and you have to deal with bugs and figure out how to control them.”

Caine, who is a student at St. Amant High School, has big plans, stating that he “hopes to learn how to run a business and make some money” while learning the value of hard work.

While Caine may view this enterprise as practice for future business endeavors, Janet and Mike, his grandparents, see it as “a labor of love” and an opportunity to maintain close family relationships.

“I've come to realize more and more every year that this is really more about those moments that you spend with your grandchildren to keep the connection,” Mike said.  “You talk to them every day and hopefully get to teach them more about being fair and other life lessons without them realizing that is what is happening. They are proud of their business, and each does a really good job.“

Caine and his family are currently open for business and will remain so until Thursday, July 14. It is located at 11297 Beco Road in St. Amant. You can call them on 573-5279.

Caine Centanni, 15, credits his Italian heritage for his family’s interest in the tomato growing process. Centanni, who “runs the business on the side,” also attends St. Amant High School, plays football and engages in other activities typical of young adults.