(Dec. 6) One of the pioneer families of organic produce has hit a major financial rut.

In a continuing saga, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the eastern district of California reported the Nov. 5 voluntary Chapter 11 filings of Stephen Pavich & Sons, Bakersfield, Calif.; Deer Creek Cold Storage Inc., Terra Bella, Calif.; and Stephen P. Pavich of Delano, Calif. Court documents indicate a status conference between counsel for the debtor and creditors’ committee will take place Feb. 5 in Bakersfield.

Just six months earlier, the bankruptcy court saw individual Chapter 11 filings from Thomas D. and Helen R. Pavich. Pavich legal counsel, Los Angeles attorney Paul Beck, told the Red Book Credit Services that that an entity called Pavich or Bros. also filed bankruptcy in May. RBCS is owned by Vance Publishing Corp., Lincolnshire, Ill., also owner of The Packer.

The Pavich-related cases are complex. In October 2000, Stephen Pavich & Sons, as well as Stephen Pavich & Sons of Arizona, Dateland Vineyards of Dateland, Ariz., and AT Farms, a related concern, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Priscilla Grannis, a Naples, Fla., attorney with Meuers Law Firm PL, said the bankruptcy of Stephen Pavich & Sons was dismissed in February. She said she was uncertain why it was dismissed.

In January of this year, Meuers Law Firm filed a Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act civil suit against Pavich Family Farms and its principals, Stephen, Thomas, Helen and Frances Pavich. She said the claims represent $48,000 from two creditors.

While Grannis said Pavich legal counsel has been cooperative and has not disputed claims, she said the bankruptcy filing has put the lawsuit in limbo.

Another active lawsuit is in play from Weyerhaeuser Co., Federal Way, Wash. The lawsuit, filed about two weeks before the Grannis suit, names Helen, Stephen and Thomas Pavich and seeks $403,000 for breach of contract, according to RBCS.

Thomas Pavich referred questions to Beck. Beck declined to comment Dec. 5.

Pavich Family Farms was founded in 1953, and the company began to experiment with organic grapes in the late 1960s.

Pavich operations in the produce industry were closed down by March. Court-appointed receivers now have control of the related company’s financial matters.

Pavich’s sales and marketing arm, PFF LLC, also is not operating.

In February last year, when the initial bankruptcy was dismissed after the court determined a reorganization plan could not be developed, the court appointed Steve Franson as receiver in the case.

Franson recommended Sun World International Inc., Bakersfield, as the company to take over marketing of Pavich Family Farms’ California organic table grape crop. Last June, the state Superior Court selected World market California organic grapes previously grown and marketed by Pavich Family Farms.

Mike Aiton, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Sun World International Inc., Bakersfield, said Sun World marketed about 1,100 California acres of organic grapes from Pavich vineyards last year and about 500 acres in 2002. The company also grows about 500 acres of its own organic table grape production, Aiton said.

Aiton said Franson appointed Sun World to market about 50% of total Pavich production. Whether Sun World continues in that role will be determined if Pavich land is sold, and he said that will be up to the bank and receiver.

“We’re expecting the ranches that don’t sell would remain part of marketing program, but it’s a tenuous situation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sun Fresh International LLC, Visalia, Calif., has the rights to use the Pavich Farms label for organic table grapes and raisins, said Darrel Fulmer, partner in Sun Fresh International. Fulmer said the company bought the Pavich label and trade mark from the bank receiver in September 2001.

The company used the label on Arizona organic grapes this year, but Fulmer said the company has no relationship with Pavich operations.

It is likely that the company will continue to use the Pavich label in future marketing efforts, he said.