Fresh off of winning the Business Renewal category at the 2018 Excellence in Family Business Awards, Forest Hills Farms checked in with the AFBP to share some thoughts on business renewal, long-term vision, and the evolution of their business.
Can you share a little about your business, and how your family members are involved?
Forest Hills Farms, Inc. is a multi-generational crop farm. We have found success through diversification of our crops. We started as a small berry farm, growing eventually to include Vegetables, Wheat, Christmas Trees, and Nursery Stock. Today the crops we produce include Blueberries, Black Raspberries, Wine Grapes, Tall Fescue (Grass Seed), Wheat, Clover, and Timber. Farming is as much a lifestyle as a business and over the years our family members have participated in many different ways that have changed as they have grown and as the business has grown. In terms of direct, every day involvement, I serve as President and CEO, my wife Mary does our bookkeeping, and my daughter Anna is our Vice President. My daughter Katharine remains involved through quarterly meetings and weighing in on any large decisions that might need to be made. I expect that as time goes on and things undoubtably change, so will all of our roles within business.
How has the business or industry most changed since the business was incorporated in 1978?
I would say the most change has happened in size. When we incorporated in 1978, it was only a 600-acre farm. Today, we manage about 2000-acres. With the change in size, we had to adapt to manage more acreage in terms of labor and diversification. Our crops have changed somewhat, as they always will, in order for us to keep up with the most productive markets. Probably the most recent example of this is our involvement with growing grapes. In the last 10 years, our biggest crop change has a been a shift into growing wine grapes. We have about 100 acres right now, consisting of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. The driving force behind that has been the development of Oregon’s reputation as a producer high quality wines. We saw the opportunity and that wine grapes fit well into our current farming operations and we were able to take advantage of it.
What do you think is the most important factor for your family business when it comes to “business renewal,” or ensuring the business will be viable for the next generation and beyond?
The most important factor for our family business when it comes to business renewal is adaptability. The world is constantly changing and we need to be able to change with it to survive. As changes happen in availability of labor, we need to have other options. Many of these options come in the form of mechanization. Technology changes constantly and it is becoming more and more important to agriculture all the time, as well as potential climate change and fluctuations in the commodity markets. When we make decisions, we try to forecast and anticipate changes so we can make them for long-term success.
How is the long-term strategy of the business influenced by family members?
Thinking long-term is something we have always done, with our business and with our family. We raised our kids with the mentality of making smart decisions for the long term so you have less decisions to make overall. As children, we constantly told our kids to “think before you act,” which is the attitude my parents took when they raised me. At the time, I am sure they found it obnoxious. However, I also see them actively practice that statement as adults. It really shows how lifestyle influences habit and how values can be carried on through generations.
About Forest Hills Farms
As committed stewards of the land, the Jesse family has been sustainably farming for three generations. What started as a 27-acre family run farm consisting of just strawberries and blackberries, has grown to over 2000 acres and a diverse mix of crops. This success has come from a true commitment to quality products, experienced leadership, and a passion for agricultural practices that focus on the triple bottom-line. Visit Forest Hills Farms online for more information.