Meet a Farmer: Teresa Keenan of Keenan Farms
Meet Teresa Keenan, Marketing Manager of Keenan Farms in Kettleman City, CA. Born into the industry and married to a second-generation farmer, she knows how much hard work and dedication goes into farming. Learn more about Teresa, how Keenan Farms grew with the pistachio industry and why she says young people need to get into farming as well!
CA GROWN: Tell me about the history of the company and what your role is.
Teresa: It’s a long history. Keenan Farms was established back in 1972 when my husband’s dad purchased 80 acres of pistachios out in Avenal. His mom used to tell me she thought she was coming to the Valley to see this beautiful orchard, but it ended up being these tiny sticks in the ground. They bought wine grape vineyards but there wasn’t enough equity in those so they threw in the pistachio acreage. At the time, Bob (my husband) was in college so they offered to send him to Fresno State to study viticulture and farming and that’s how he got into business. The California Pistachio Industry in itself calls 1976 our first commercial crop year, so we became growers in 1972 and it takes about six to seven years before you yield a harvestable crop. So when we harvested our first crop, we became a pistachio processor by necessity because there were only two pistachio processors in the business at the time, one was in Chico and the other was in Springville. When you have pistachios, you have to hull them within 24 hours or the shells become stained and blemished. We really needed to get them processed quickly, so we didn’t want to drive them all the way to Chico or Springville to have them processed. Bob and his father did some research, found an old potato peeler and put the pistachios in there to hold them. Then they roasted and salted them and started selling pistachios on the East Coast and traveling a lot. The original two processors are gone now, so we’ve been doing this longer than anyone in the U.S. I believe. Prior to this, I worked for the California Pistachio Commission in the 80s and that’s how I met my husband. Now I’m the Marketing Manager for the company, so I oversee anything with our logo and brand on it, our merchandising and marketing.
CA GROWN: What does a typical day look like for you?
Teresa: Everyday is different. We’ve established an amazing team of managers, supervisors and employees that we’re really grateful for. Bob is at the farm everyday and he walks the fields every day and we do have two farm managers that oversee the day-to-day farming activities. We live out in the pistachios, so we’re surrounded by 25 acres of pistachios and it’s interesting to watch what they’re doing. With pistachios, there are male and female trees. Male trees produce the pollen and female trees produce the actual blooms, so it’s really interesting to see that up close.
CA GROWN: What are some ways your company gives back to the community?
Teresa: There’s a lot of different ways. We just gave a sizable donation to our local King’s Guild for Children’s Hospital and they’re working on the Wilson Heart Center, so the money will go towards that. We do give back to a lot of different groups, but our number one priority is to give back to the communities that our employees live in, which are Avenal and Kettleman City. Both are such small towns, so we enjoy supporting the local sports groups, festivals and other events. We also give a monthly donation to our Christian Aid, which provides food and clothing to people in need. We’ve also met many people in the military since we live here in Lemoore, so we’re constantly sending pistachios overseas. We also donate to the Boys & Girls Clubs in Huron and Firebaugh to help those kids. We’ve also sent cases of pistachios to our fellow farmers in Texas who were affected by the wild fires. I’m also a volunteer case worker for the American Red Cross, so I work with people weekly who need assistance from the Red Cross.
CA GROWN: What drew you into the farming profession?
Teresa: I grew up in this industry on a dairy farm because my dad and grandfather were dairy farmers. So I always knew this industry was going to be a part of my life. Bob was drawn into it because his father purchased this land and offered to send him to college to learn how to farm because he was so interested in nature and the land. He absolutely loved the viticulture unit at Fresno State and enjoyed everything he learned. We don’t know any other way to live other than this farming lifestyle.
CA GROWN: What are your hobbies or pastimes when you’re not farming?
Teresa: We love to garden and we have a lot of animals like horses, dogs, cats, goats and more, so we enjoy spending time with them. We also love to travel and enjoy visiting our children while they’re away at college.
CA GROWN: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a farmer?
Teresa: Do it because we need more farmers. I recently read an article that said the average age of farmers now is 58 or 59, so we definitely need young people to get into farming. Go to school and learn about the industry first because it’s a rewarding profession and life. Getting educated first and understanding what you’re getting into is key. Fresno State has a fantastic agriculture department and both Bob and I attended college there and our son is there studying agriculture as well. It’s also important to talk to people in the industry so you can learn more and if it’s something you think you’ll enjoy, then go for it.
CA GROWN: What is something that’s unique about your business or makes it stand out?
Teresa: We’ve been in this industry since the birth of it. The industry considers 1976 to be the first commercial crop year and we were there. It’s been so fun to watch it grow from our first year with 1.5 million pounds for the whole industry to now where we’re well into the millions of pounds produced. I’ve loved watching the pistachio industry blossom into what it is today.
CA GROWN: Why is perseverance so important when you first start out farming?
Teresa: Pistachios are a very expensive crop to farm, so you know what you’re getting into beforehand. It takes a long while for pistachios to become a harvestable crop. You have to have investments and it’s not like farming any other crop because it takes dedication, money and a lot of planning.
CA GROWN: What has contributed to your past success and what are you doing to ensure continued success going forward?
Teresa: Our past success is the result of hard work, dedication, staying up to date with technology and our awesome team of employees. Our continued success will result from doing the same thing we’re doing and continuing to educate ourselves. We always look for new and innovative ways to farm and because water is our most precious resource, we recently installed these high-tech moisture sensors, so we irrigate less.
CA GROWN: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Teresa: The most rewarding part is seeing our product on the marketplace shelves. I think that is pretty cool and I have friends all over the country who will snap a picture of our pistachios in the supermarkets and they’ll send it to me. We take great pride in what we produce and it’s a great feeling to see so many other people enjoying them. It’s also very rewarding to see our children learning about the company and having the ambition to take over the company one day. We couldn’t be more proud of that.
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?
Teresa: We just recently converted to no-till farming, which means we’ll be using less fossil fuels on our farms. Those high tech moisture sensors I mentioned earlier also help a lot because we’ll water less so the weeds won’t grow, we won’t use more water than we need and more.