Farmington Fresh: a legacy of innovation

January 8, 2015

 

With California known as the the food basket of the world” I thought it would be a great idea to reach out to David Rajkovich, the managing partner at Rajkovich Family Farms, and talk farming. What I found was a farming business that has continued to successfully grow and diversify over the years. Now the family doesn’t just grow food, it packages and distributes as well.

The Rajkovich brothers, Randall, Garrett and David, are third-generation farmers and businessmen with strong ties to the Stockton area dating back to the late 1950s. Their grandparents were all Croatian immigrants who arrived in America in the early 1900s and initially worked in the orchards of the Santa Clara Valley.

The Rajkovich brothers’ father, Nick, began his own farming operation when he returned home from World War II. He raised cattle and grew plums and apricots in the foothills of the Almaden Valley south of San Jose.  He expanded the family orchards to the San Joaquin Valley in 1959. Nick diversified and added cherries and walnuts to the variety of crops produced.  Currently, the family farms orchards in the Waterloo and Morada areas as well as Fresno County.

The key to the Rajkovichs’ success has been innovation.

“Since I started in the business after college in the 1970s, most of our crop yields per acre have doubled, and we will need to double them again in the next 30 years to remain in business,” said David Rajkovich.

In the 1980s the family started planting apples. That decision eventually led to the establishment of Farmington Fresh in 1995 when several local apple and cherry growers decided to join forces to pack and market their crops.  Now wholly-owned by the Rajkovich family, Farmington Fresh has become a leading producer of fresh-cut fruit snack items distributed throughout the western United States. In 2014,  the company completed a major expansion and reorganization as a result of its recent ownership consolidation.  The facility now has a 25,000-square-foot, cutting-edge automated sliced fruit processing room, which has provided for the introduction of an expanded line of fresh-cut fruit snack products.

San Joaquin County Farm Bureau Federation executive director Bruce Blodgett described it as a state-of-the-art facility that is a real benefit to the county.

“It’s tougher and tougher to build facilities like that in California, so the fact that we have one here in San Joaquin County is a real asset,” Blodgett said.

Blodgett added that Farmington Fresh has participated in the farm bureau’s ag-education program by demonstrating the technology side of the agriculture industry and the fact that there are a variety of avenues open to students who want pursue a career in agriculture.

“They show what it takes to keep ag moving forward,” Blodgett said.

In addition to several apple products, the company now offers individual serving packs of fresh cut oranges, pears and de-stemmed grapes. It also has other fruit items under development.

School lunch programs in the western United States have been Farmington Fresh’s largest market, with new retail variety packs being sold with two of the country’s largest foodservice distributors for nationwide distribution.

This past year also saw the merger with Onions Etc. to further expand Farmington’s business portfolio. Onions Etc. is a local family-founded business that specializes in onion and potato products. Retail packs of red, yellow, white and pearl onion varieties are packaged in a variety of sizes.  As innovation continues, a new retail line of potato packs labeled “Just Enough” has recently been introduced. The first is a package containing four large Russet potatoes that will be marketed in the meat section of retail grocery stores. When I first saw the packaging and cross-marketing strategy of this new “Just Enough” concept, I believed it would be a game changer as a marketing concept.

Innovation is not limited to the company’s packing business. It extends to its orchards as well.  Farmington Fresh recently obtained the exclusive United States rights to grow, pack and market a new apple variety named Modi, which was developed in Italy and is now patented and trademarked worldwide.

Modi is an extremely firm and juicy red apple, with a balance of sweetness and acidity.  It remains crunchy and does not become mealy like many other apple varieties.  Modi is also unique in that it develops a full rich red color in the hot and dry climate of California’s Central Valley. There are other advantages as well.

“One of the major benefits of our new Modi apple is that it requires 50 percent less inputs of insecticides and fungicides than other apple varieties,” Rajkovich said.

2014 also marked the addition of fourth-generation Rajkovich family members joining the company, helping to expand the fruit growing and processing business. David stated that the Rajkovich family is proud of their family’s long tradition of involvement in the farming and agribusiness industries, but it is their late father’s legacy of honesty, integrity and fairness in the way they treat customers and employees that they are most proud.

After talking with Rajkovich, it’s clear Farmington Fresh will remain innovative to develop new products to meet the demands of the ever changing marketplace. The brothers’ goal, which began in the 1950s with their dad and remains to this day, is to provide customers with a variety of fresh products of the highest standards and quality.

Throughout these decades of change and growth, Rajkovich made it clear that many things may continue to change, but one thing will remain constant: loyalty and dedication to long-term employees, some of whom have been with the family business for almost 60 years.

Farming families such as the Rajkovich family farm are what creates the fiber of our farming success in the Central Valley. They create jobs, innovate and bring quality agricultural products to the marketplace, adding consistency to our economy.

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