Letter from HMC Farms co-owner and Chief Financial Officer, Sarah McClarty

I’m writing this blog at 5:00 am, trying to get a few hours of work done in peace before I get to perform the exhausting dance of helping keep our company afloat, our employees safe, and the nation’s food supply secure while homeschooling our two children. I’ve been doing this for almost a month now. I’m tired, I’m scared, and I’m one of the lucky ones.

We had approximately 1.5 million pounds of grapes in our cold storage destined for schools, restaurants, amusement parks, airlines, and hotels when much of the nation was told to stay home, schools were closed, and businesses locked their doors. These grapes weren’t in bags you can find in the grocery store, they were prepped for food service channels – bulk grapes, pre-cut into perfect handful size bunches and grapes already taken off the stem, washed, and ready to eat. Overnight, a lot of our food service customers stopped ordering and sent us letters stating they have no idea when they’ll be able to pay us again. No money coming in and a mountain of perishable inventory is not a business model anyone would recommend, but as my father-in-law Harold put it – we are considered an essential business, and we had the chance to keep operating. It was time to get creative.

We started repacking our grapes into retail ready bags, worked with school districts to get them the product they needed in packaging that worked for their new meal pick-up formats, and pushed inventory into home delivery services that have seen an uptick in their businesses. We have a longstanding relationship with our local food bank, and have donated millions of pounds of summer stone fruit to them over the years. We knew there was no way we would sell all of our inventory, and we also knew there was a large population in our community that would need assistance during this time. Before the grapes deteriorated, we started sending the California Association of Food Banks several truckloads of fruit each week. Last week, our local food bank reached out to their longtime donors asking if there was anything more we could do – they had a 50% jump in need in the prior two weeks, and almost a quarter of the people receiving food and supplies were first time visitors to the food bank.  Only a few months prior, HMC had hosted a volunteer night at the food bank packing up hundreds of boxes for their weekly distributions. With tears in my eyes, wondering what those families are going through now I wrote a large check on behalf of the McClarty Family.

In the forefront of our planning during this entire time has been the safety of our employees. Their health is not only required for us to keep operating, but they are part of our family and we would never want to compromise their safety. Across our operations, we have always maintained high sanitary standards as is required of food growers, handlers, and processors; but we have redoubled our efforts and taken further steps to allow for social distancing. As mitigation steps, we have broken our crews into small pods, we don’t move employees between pods, breaks and lunchtimes are staggered by pods, and in our packing facility the different pods wear different color labels to help promote separation. We sponsor a free clinic for our employees that has remained open and servicing clients during this time. Though we’ve had to lay off people in our processing plant due to the drastic downturn in business, we continue to allow them to access the clinic and receive both acute and maintenance care during this health crisis.

We are now looking forward. We have millions of dollars invested in the crops out in our fields right now. Our sales staff is doing their best to meet our customers’ ever-changing needs including adjustments to packaging that there are now even longer production lead times on. Supplies in general are hard to come by and must be ordered weeks in advance. We have started the labor-intensive practice of thinning our stone fruit, and must still pay for continued cultural practices, harvest, packing, storage, and shipment of our product before it gets to an end user. All of this means paying out money now, when we are facing the uphill battle of collecting receivables from longtime customers that are facing unprecedented financial challenges of their own.

As my son’s 2nd grade teacher told her students during one of their Zoom instructional meetings last week, we are living through a significant historical moment right now. While many people continue to try to predict, none of us know the long-term ramifications this pandemic has or will cause. We as food producers have an opportunity to be part of that history lesson, to be part of a success story. To keep our food supply flowing, we need to see flexibility in trucking rules, we need the USDA to step in and use the existing PACA Act to help keep money flowing back to producers, we need to see relaxation in regulations that are now at odds with new COVID-19 requirements, we must keep farmers and ranchers growing and producing food. Decisions being made now will impact our nation’s food supply for years. HMC is committed to helping support these changes, our employees, and our community. This is a time for everyone to get creative and to help each other out. We will keep evolving to do our best under ever-changing circumstances.

 

Sarah McClarty

Chief Financial Officer, HMC Farms

Ladies of HMC serve dinner at Terry’s House

The women’s group at HMC Farms, which we refer to as the Ladies of HMC, blends activities from professional development to teambuilding and community service events. One such service event was at Terry’s House in Fresno. Terry’s House, named in honor of Terry Richards, is across the street from Community Regional Medical Center in Downtown Fresno. It is a place where family members of patients in critical care units at Community Regional Medical Center can sleep, eat, and find a peaceful moment during a difficult time. The facilities at Terry’s House include 20 private guest rooms with private bathrooms, a laundry facility, computer center, shared kitchen and dining area, and more. For families traveling from outside the Fresno area, and often having to stay for an extended period of time, Terry’s House is a much needed resource.

With several service and donation options available, the Ladies of HMC took action in two areas: care packages and meal service. The group made care packages with toiletries and everyday supplies donated by HMC Farms, these packages included items like toothbrushes and deodorant – things that people staying at Terry’s House might need when unexpectedly away from home – as well as community items like coffee and creamer. After the care packages were made, it was time for meal service. Women from across different departments at HMC Farms joined forces to participate in meal-prep at our main office, and eleven of those women drove to Fresno to cook and serve meals to residents of Terry’s House from its well-equipped kitchen. In addition to serving the meal, there was an opportunity to talk to several families in the middle of stays at the facility. They shared their stories with our group, and were very gracious for both the meal that was served to them and Terry’s House for being a ray of sunshine in the storm. The service event was fun and rewarding, and we look forward to volunteering at Terry’s House again in the future!

Terry’s House is funded solely through donations. If you are interested in more information about how to donate to or volunteer at Terry’s House, visit their section of the Community Medical Centers website here: https://www.communitymedical.org/Make-a-Donation/Where-to-Donate/Terry-s-House/

Terry’s House can also be contacted by email or phone:

foundation@communitymedical.org
(559) 724-4343

Western Growers Careers in Ag students visit HMC Farms

Western Growers (a non-profit organization that represents local and regional family farmers growing fresh produce in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico) is collaborating with Fresno State University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to create the Careers In Ag program. This program introduces students, who are mostly made up of STEM-related majors (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), to the wide variety of potential careers in agriculture. On a tour of businesses in the Central Valley, the Careers in Ag group visited HMC Farms to cover the topics of farm management, sustainability, plant science, and innovation. Several members of the McClarty family met with the students, discussing their different areas of responsibility and how farming, ag technology, accounting, and sales all fit together to make HMC Farms a successful ag business with a very diverse set of career opportunities within one organization. In addition to open dialogue about different departments and career options at HMC Farms, Harold McClarty discussed the issues faced by California farmers, and the future of ag in the Central Valley with the students.

After the discussion held at the HMC Farms main office, the students headed out to the farms. Drew Ketelsen, Farm Manager and head of our technology projects, introduced the Careers in Ag students to different innovative techniques and technologies we have put in place to become more efficient. He discussed his background in civil engineering, and how that skillset has translated into farm management to transform our planting and irrigation methods. Students observed the difference between an orchard planted in the traditional method and one set up using a high density close-planting method. This new method of planting will ultimately make multiple farming activities, such as pruning and harvesting, more efficient using new ag technologies.

We are thankful to Western Growers for giving HMC Farms the opportunity to show STEM students how they can fit into the world of agriculture, and to hear their questions and concerns about careers in ag. We may have just met the future leaders of industry!

To learn more about the Western Growers Careers in Ag program, read this article.

Peach al pastor challenge at Tacos, Brews & Jams

(above photo by Mike Oz)

Every month, Tioga Sequoia Brewing Company in downtown Fresno hosts Tacos, Brews & Jams – curated by journalist and local foodie Mike Oz. As the name suggests, the event is complete with food trucks, beer from the host brewery, and live music; plus several local vendors. The theme of this month’s TB&J was a peach al pastor challenge. Three local peach growers were paired up with three local food trucks to replace the traditional pineapple used in al pastor with something more representative of the Central Valley’s bounty: peaches. As a bonus, or perhaps the inspiration behind the theme, Tioga Sequoia brews Half Dome beer, which is made with local peaches. For this event, special Half Dome Beer Slushies were available for purchase – the perfect complement to tacos on a warm summer day.

HMC Farms was paired up with Gonzalez Taqueria from Fresno for the challenge, and the results were delicious! In addition to cooking the al pastor meat with peaches, Gonzalez Taqueria added slices of the cooked peaches to the tacos. Like icing on the cake, our peaches were also made into salsa to top the taco perfection cooked up by Luis Gonzalez. Our only complaint about the whole event is that we can’t eat those delicious tacos for dinner every day!

Keep an eye out for more collaborations between HMC Farms and local businesses this summer, we’ve got a few more fun pairings appearing in the coming months…

Cat Eye View Photography captured some great moments from the event (see below)

photo credit: Cat Eye View Photography
photo credit: Cat Eye View Photography
photo credit: Cat Eye View Photography
photo credit: Cat Eye View Photography

 

UC Davis Professors Visit HMC Farms

This month, University of California, Davis professors hopped in two vans and took a road trip to visit HMC Farms. The visit was part of an ongoing relationship between UC Davis and HMC Farms that stretches back many years. On the trip, professors were able to get a well-rounded understanding of our specific commodities, farming practices, and the issues we face today.

By meeting with farmers and other employees who are working actively in the subject matter being taught at UC Davis, the professors had the opportunity to ask questions and gain knowledge from a different perspective outside the classroom. In turn, the HMC Farms team had the opportunity to become educated on current research projects and studies being conducted at the university which pertain to our particular segment of agriculture. As part of our sustained commitment to education, this meeting was a way to bridge the gap between what’s being taught in the classroom at UC Davis, and what is taking place every day at HMC Farms. We hope to continue hosting meetings like this on a regular basis in order to maintain an open dialogue with institutions like UC Davis, which are educating the future leaders of our industry.

 

McClarty Family Training Room opens at the Central California Food Bank

For some time, the Central California Food Bank has been operating at maximum capacity. Through many generous donations, the CCFB was finally able to move into a new 140,000 square foot distribution facility in Fresno. Aside from our regular fruit donations to the food bank, Harold McClarty and family donated funds to the new facility, which led to the McClarty Family Training Room being named in their honor.

In 2016-2017, the Central California Food Bank, previously known as the Community Food Bank, helped 280,000 people per month through food distributions, meal recovery programs, and school sites. For more info on the CCFB and its mission to feed the hungry in the Central Valley, click here.