Meet a Farmer: Jeff Simonian of Simonian Fruit Company
Meet Jeff Simonian, Sales and Marketing Manager for Simonian Fruit Company. His dad and uncle began the company when they were teenagers and Jeff has taken over to help lead the second generation to success. We chatted with him about his father’s leadership, his work family, and of course farming!
CA GROWN: What does a typical day look like for you?
Jeff: It depends on the type of year we have, like right now we don’t have too much going on. One thing about being in sales that I like is that every day is different and there are always new challenges, but for the most part during the peak of our season, we would take a look at the inventory in the morning to see what’s available. Then we’d reach out to customers, either by phone, email and fax sometimes, and communicate to them what’s available. Then through the early afternoon, we’ll start getting orders back from customers for what products they want. While that’s going on, we’ll start packing fruit typically around 10 a.m. and we’ll constantly monitor and see what’s being packed to find out what inventory we have, what orders we’re going to fill, what fruits we need to sell more of, etc. At the end of the day, we’ll tie it all together and make sure the trucks get loaded, orders are filled and deal with any other problems that may arise. That, in a nutshell, is what my days are like.
CA GROWN: What is your favorite part about your job and why?
Jeff: Like I said the fact that every day is different and I’m not always working on the same thing. I also like working with my family and being in a family business is really enjoyable and rewarding. At the end of the day, they’re your family and that’s the best part.
CA GROWN: What are some ways you give back to the community?
Jeff: We donate a lot of fruit. This year, it seemed like every weekend we’d have a different organization come to pick up 2 or 10 or 20 boxes of fruit, so we give away a lot of our product. We also are proud to provide a lot of jobs. Sometimes we take more people than we need or, because we’re seasonal and not a year-round business, we’ll keep people working because they’re basically a part of our family. A lot of our workers have been with us for a long time, so we like to keep them working and help them provide for their families as much as we can. Years ago, we also used to put up the Christmas decorations and our workers would light up the town. Because we’re a small community, we have to work with the community and we love being a big part of it.
CA GROWN: What drew you into the farming profession?
Jeff: I call myself a farmer, but I work in the office in sales and marketing. But I’ve always wanted to work with my dad. Growing up, my dad wasn’t home a lot, especially during the summer, and I always wanted to spend more time with him and work with him. That’s what really drew me to it.
CA GROWN: What are your hobbies or pastimes when you’re not farming?
Jeff: I’m a big sports fan, so I like to watch the games, attend sporting events and more. I also like to go wine tasting and I love to have fun with my friends and family as well. We try and take a few small family vacations every year, so that’s always fun.
CA GROWN: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a farmer?
Jeff: You have to have a lot of money and a great work ethic. It’s a lot of hard work and I hope people realize it’s not easy. I was just telling someone the other day, since minimum wage is going up on January 1, it’s not going to be easy for us. But it’s a lot of work and you have to be smart and educated. I graduated from Fresno State and even now, I wish I had taken more accounting classes, learned more Spanish and all these other things that I could have done during my college years.
CA GROWN: What is something unique about your business? Or what is something that makes your business stand out?
Jeff: One thing is definitely the family aspect. I know there’s a lot of family farms in California, but that’s one thing that I tell people that’s unique about us because we’re the second generation working together. Another unique thing for us is the fact that we’re in such a small town. It’s got a population of only 5,000 people, so we’re real ingrained with the community. The local high school comes here and if they have people visiting from Australia, they’ll bring them here. The ag program at the high school also does their annual booster event in our packing facility. We also hold different fundraiser events for the community in our packing shed during the off season as well. Another unique thing has to do with the products and not so much anymore, but we were big in pomegranates. That’s one crop that we’ve been growing for 35 years now but 20 years ago, no one knew what a pomegranate was. Now everyone knows what they are and a lot of farms have gotten into it, but back then we were the pomegranate kings and people always came to us for them.
CA GROWN: What has contributed to your long-term success in the past and what are you doing to ensure continued success in the future?
Jeff: We’re pretty diversified. We, of course, have pomegranates, but we have stone fruit as well, apricots, peaches, plums, nectarines, grapes (table and wine), and we have some walnuts. So that’s been something that’s helped keep us successful. Another thing has been the leadership from my dad and my uncle. They were in this business for 50 years and they both recently passed away, but their experience and guidance has helped steer all of us, no doubt about that.
CA GROWN: What are some things you’re looking forward to with your business?
Jeff: We’re looking forward to getting into new crops. Ten to 20 years ago, we were the only big guys growing pomegranates and now there are plenty of companies that offer pomegranates. So you have to keep going forward and innovating and doing things to separate your business. One thing we have gotten involved with is apples. There are very few apples grown in California, so that looks like a new item for us going forward that’s going to help diversify us and give us more of a niche. Another thing is organic produce. I know organic foods are more popular now, so we’re starting to offer that option more in some areas.
CA GROWN: What’s the most rewarding part of your job and why?
Jeff: Again, having the opportunity to work with my family is very rewarding. For example, I never had a really good relationship with my uncle and wasn’t very close to him, but once I got into the family business after college, I developed a great relationship with him and really got to know him. Another rewarding thing is working with our employees. We’re in a small community and a lot of them have worked for us for 20, 30 and 40 years and we’ve gotten to know their kids and see them grow up. That’s very rewarding and I’m so grateful that I get to be a part of that.