Meet a Farmer: Bob McKellar of McKellar Family Farms
Meet Bob McKellar, CEO of McKellar Family Farms in Ivanhoe, CA. As a third-generation citrus grower, he loves the farming lifestyle and encourages young people to get involved in the industry. Learn more about Bob, how he introduces citrus farming to thousands of people every year and why he says his employees are the most rewarding part of his job.
CA GROWN: Tell me about the history of the company and what your role is.
Bob: My family started in our location in 1927. My grandfather, father and my uncle were all in the citrus business and I’m following in their footsteps. My father died in 1972 and since that time, I’ve been the go-to guy here. I owned a public relations agency in Oregon, so the first few years after he died I managed this place by being here once a week and with a fax machine, a telephone and three wonderful employees. In 2007, we started building two wedding venues and we’re celebrating our tenth year for those. We do about 50 or 60 weddings a year and we also do other events like birthday parties, funerals and things like that.
CA GROWN: What does a typical day look like for you?
Bob: A typical day starts out at 6 a.m. because I meet with our field superintendent five days a week and we talk about what needs to be done for the day. Our operation is set up to where we have team leaders and they each have team members underneath them. So, every Thursday at lunchtime I meet with our team leader that’s in charge of our orchards and once a month we have a luncheon for all of our employees and that’s followed by a team leader meeting where we exchange ideas. So on a typical day for me after my morning meetings, I work out because I need that. Then after that I go over to the main office to sign checks and meet with two of our team leaders over there – one that’s in charge of weddings and one that’s our office manager.
CA GROWN: What are some ways your company gives back to the community?
Bob: From our wedding venues, we set aside $7,000 and we select some purpose every year to contribute to. This year, it’s Ivanhoe Elementary School which is the school I went to a long time ago. We also work with the Ivanhoe Boys and Girls Club and we contribute to the Ivanhoe Lions Club scholarship programs. We also contribute to the Tulare County Farm Bureau scholarship programs and another program they have provides jackets to FFA students who can’t afford them, so we contribute to that. We also contribute to political action committees and we give oranges to organizations that need oranges. We definitely try to be good citizens in our community.
CA GROWN: What drew you into the farming profession?
Bob: I was born into it. Our home ranch here is where I was born and we still farm on it. I went to Cal Poly where I didn’t study anything having to do with citrus. I double majored in animal husbandry major and ag journalism. I’ve always been interested in agriculture and I still am to this day.
CA GROWN: What’s the best part about being a farmer?
Bob: That’s easy. The best part is the fact that it allows you to live in the country where it’s generally speaking quiet and comes with very pleasant circumstances. We happen to live in an orchard and it’s a very wonderful lifestyle. It’s not anything you’re going to get rich at, but it’s definitely a nice way to live.
CA GROWN: What are your hobbies or pastimes when you’re not farming?
Bob: I’m not sure how to answer that because my wife is disabled, so I’m a part-time caregiver and a full-time farm manager. We also have several projects going on now for the business and are planning some for the future, so I honestly don’t have time for hobbies. I guess I’d have to say my work is my hobby.
CA GROWN: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a farmer?
Bob: If someone wants to be involved in agriculture, there are many ways that they can be involved without actually going out in the field with a shovel. So I would advise any young person to definitely consider a life in agriculture and if they were so inclined to be interested in actually farming, I’d highly recommend it because it’s a great lifestyle, a wonderful place to raise children, it teaches you a great work ethic and it just has so many advantages. So I wouldn’t discourage anyone, man or woman, who wanted to be a farmer and work in this industry.
CA GROWN: What is something that’s unique about your business or makes it stand out?
Bob: I think the thing that’s unique about our business, at least in our area, is that to the best of my knowledge we operate the only farm that allows the public to come here. We do school tours, there’s an after school organization here that takes care of kids after school, and we have bus tours that come in from Germany and France and Canada. Within the next few months, we’ll finish developing a self-guided farm tour in which people can come to the farm for a tour and walk through it at their own pace and learn about agriculture and citrus. That should be in operation within 60 days. Another project we’re working on is developing 22 acres into a demonstration farm where we would make it available to the public for maybe 10 months out of the year and we’re currently working on a partnership with Fresno State for that to teach students how to farm. So I guess what makes us unique is that we bring thousands of people onto our property every year and they get an opportunity to see citrus farming up close.
CA GROWN: What has contributed to your past success and what are you doing to ensure continued success going forward?
Bob: That’s an easy answer: wonderful people. I’ve been absolutely blessed with so many people who have worked here in the past and that are working here now. I cannot contribute our success to anything other than that. When my dad died, myself and three employees ran this place by telephone and fax machine and one of those people still works for me and has been here for 42 years. Our bookkeeper was here for 37 years and retired last year. I grew up with a fellow who was our farm manager for 35 years and he retired about 10 years ago. My key present employees are young women and they’re so delightful, smart and they’re dedicated to what we’re doing. So I give 100 percent of the credit for our success to the people that have worked here and currently work here.
CA GROWN: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Bob: I’d have to go back to my employees. The most rewarding part of working here every day is working alongside a group of dedicated, enthusiastic employees.
CA GROWN: As a California farmer, we know that you have a long list of activities you undertake on your farm to care for the land and its resources. What are one or two ways that you’re most proud of or you feel are innovative ways you care for your land?
Bob: Over the years, we’ve changed the way we protect our trees from frost. In my lifetime, we’ve gone from burning tires in the field to two different successions of smudge pots and now we almost exclusively use irrigation water and wind machines. For most of my father’s lifetime and a good chuck of mine, we furrow irrigated and we’ve refined that by using mini sprinklers and we have the ability to conserve water with those and give each tree essentially what it needs and no more.