Meet a Farmer: Jesus Romero of J&E Farms
Meet Jesus Romero, Production Manager for J&E Farms in Oxnard, California. As a second generation farmer, he’s working hard to follow in his father’s footsteps and continue with his family’s successful business.
Learn more about Jesus, the fresh berries his family’s company provides to Driscoll’s and why he believes the key to a successful business is keeping their employees happy.
CA GROWN: Tell me about the history of the company and what your role is.
Jesus: Our company J&E Farms was started by my dad. He started picking strawberries and when he was 18, he migrated to the U.S. from Mexico to work. He worked his way up the ladder as an irrigator, truck driver and did all the jobs he could. Finally, there was an opportunity for him to be a foreman and he took it. After a few years, they offered him a manager position and he did really well. Later on, they were looking for partners at the company and he became a partner. Twenty years later, here we are. Our business is family-operated and I’m the second generation here. I studied Agriculture Business at Fresno State and I graduated in 2013. After that, I worked for two years at another company as a strawberry field Ranch Manger and I got my experience there. In 2015, I started working with my dad here and now I’m the Production Manager. We grow raspberries, strawberries and blackberries year round.
CA GROWN: How are you connected to Driscoll’s?
Jesus: We’re growers and my dad has been working with them for a very long time. Ever since he started growing berries, he’s always grown for Driscoll’s. We work really closely together and we make sure we work together with the other growers they have. It’s a great connection to have with them and they help us out a lot.
CA GROWN: What does a typical day look like for you?
Jesus: I’ll get up around 5:30 to get ready for work and drink my coffee. When I get to the ranch I’ll speak to my two foremen to plan out the day. One is in charge of strawberries and the other is in charge of raspberries and blackberries. We’ll talk about supplies and see if there’s anything they need to get the job done faster and more efficiently throughout the day. Twice a week, usually Tuesdays and Thursdays, I like to get an early start in the office and get all the paperwork, payroll and everything else out of the way. The rest of the time I like to be out at the ranch working with my employees and nowadays, it’s very important for us to stay in good communication with them to make sure they’re working comfortably and have everything they need. We’re really short on labor out here and we like to take care of the employees that we have. My dad has been around for a very long time and we have employees that have been working for us for 10 to 15 years, so I really like to listen to them because I know they can teach me a lot. I try to take in everything I can and learn from their experiences. That’s what I love about this job, every day is different, I’m never doing the same thing and I always learn something new.
CA GROWN: What drew you into the farming profession?
Jesus: My dad has always been a farmer and I’m the oldest of three siblings, so I got to enjoy working weekends and during the summer. When I wasn’t out at the pool having fun with my friends, I would go out and help my parents work. I really got into it and I always loved being out in the fields and driving the tractors.
CA GROWN: What’s it like working with your family?
Jesus: It’s very different. Sometimes it can be a little tough, but our family is very close. My dad has 14 brothers and sisters and half of them work with us. At times, it really helps to work with family because they’ll help you out more than a normal employee would just because they care a little bit more. I’ve heard it can be tough to work with family, but I think it’s about how you approach the situation. Sometimes you get stuck in sticky situations because it’s mixing family and business, but we try to keep them separate.
CA GROWN: What are some ways your company gives back to the community?
Jesus: Every year, we get together around the holidays with a local elementary school that our employees are most connected with and has the most needs. We’ll buy 50 to 80 backpacks, fill them up with supplies and give them to families along with a blanket. We also donate money to non-profit organizations that are going to help out our employees when we have profitable years. If our employees are involved in an organization or with a community event, they know they can reach out to us and we’ll help any way we can because we know it’s for a good cause.
CA GROWN: What are your hobbies or pastimes when you’re not farming?
Jesus: At the moment, I’m married but I don’t have kids, so my hobby is working full time because we work such long hours right now and the berry industry has been tough for the last five years, so we’ve been very shorthanded. I always stay late to check on the plants and make sure they’re doing well.
CA GROWN: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Jesus: Being able to help our employees and provide food for them to put on their table. We provide jobs for about 200 people year round and it feels good knowing that I’m doing the best I can to keep this company going so that all our employees can put food on their table and provide for their families. I also love that we try to help out the community as much as possible. My dad raised us to help out as much as we can through donating money and if not that, then your time. So that really stuck with me all these years and I want to keep that going because it’s a great feeling to be able to help other people.
CA GROWN: What is something that’s unique about your business or makes it stand out?
Jesus: We’re one of the few companies that really tries to focus on our employees and our turn around rate for our employees is pretty close to 2% to 3% every year, so we have a good base of employees that always returns to work with us. Most of the time, we have work year round and nowadays, it’s hard to keep your employees for that whole time, but we’re very fortunate to do that and it makes us unique. We do our best to keep our employees happy so they’ll continue to come back and work hard with us.
CA GROWN: What has contributed to your past success and what are you doing to ensure success going forward?
Jesus: My dad is very humble, has always stayed grounded and works at the front line of the business. He’s always been there and whenever a problem arises, he’s there to solve it and we always try to focus on the little things. We take the extra time to make sure everything is working correctly out in the fields and that our employees have what they need. Our strong work ethic also plays a part because our core values are honesty, fairness and respect and I think living by those values for the past 20 years has greatly contributed to our success.
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?
Jesus: During the off-season, we’ll always plant a cover crop to keep digging that ground and organic matter. We’re also watching our water usage and being more careful about how much water we use to water our facilities. We’re also trying alternate methods of fumigants and trying to find the least harmful ones for the soil. We also rotate how often we fumigate, one year we’ll do it and one year we won’t.
CA GROWN: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a farmer?
Jesus: It’s a tough job and a lot of work but if you love the outdoors and doing something different every day, try farming. If you work hard at it every day, it’s going to be a very rewarding career. We really need younger farmers because a lot of the farming generation right now is getting close to retiring, so I’d encourage a lot of younger people to come out and farm to see what it’s all about.