With a backstory that includes the Dutch farming heritage of Jack Brouwer and the multi-decade California Central Valley ag experience of Derrell Kelso, the history and future of JJB Family Farms in the Valley’s Grand Island spills over with product diversity and a lifelong commitment to innovation, quality, and service.
The story begins with Jack, who with his wife, Jane, heads up JJB Family Farms. He was a teen when he immigrated to Canada at the end of World War II.
And Derrell, who is the manager of JJB Family Farms today, came to the company in 2018 some 16 years after founding and heading up Onion Etc. shipper/repacker of onions, potatoes, and other items and has 34 years of experience in the industry.
In short, it’s one of those success stories that has it all. The products and expertise in the JJB Family Farms wheelhouse range from growing, packing and shipping a full line of onions as well as the most recent addition, the Modi Apple – but the manifest also includes wine grapes, almonds, grapefruit, avocados, pistachios, walnuts, alfalfa, cannery tomatoes and sweet corn.
Derrell’s background is primarily onions, potatoes and walnuts, and he told us, “I founded Onions Etc. in May of 2000, sold the company in 2018 to JJB Family Farms and am now the manager of JJB Family Farms.”
Jack and Jane Brouwer, Derrell explained, are the husband/wife team who with other family members “are involved in multiple industries, the foundation of which is https://www.superiorrm.com/about-us and another company, the non-profit https://meadowbrookvillage.org/.”
Derrell went on to tell us that Jack Brouwer lost his father in World War II, and he and his mother and brothers relocated to Canada after the war ended. It was in Canada that Jack and Jane met and married, and the couple immigrated to Escondido, CA, where the family now lives. One of Jack’s grandsons, Joe Broek, is the company’s General Manager, Derrell added.
A unique melding of the team’s combined produce experience and the adherence to the underlying good-practices farming spirit has resulted in what Derrell said is “delighting the world with flavors from our farms and packing high-end offerings as though we are a Five-Star chef that yearns to delight his patrons… this is why we do what we do, our yearning to delight those we serve.”
In its comprehensive onion program, JJB Family Farms offers “year-round differentiated programs for each client that fits the profile of their stores,” he said. “Our menu includes conventional onions, organic onions, pearls, boilers, and shallots, all packed year-round.”
Derrell himself has been working onions “year-round since I founded Onions Etc. in 2000. I’ve been selling onions every day of the year since 1987, 34 years.”
He said at JJB Family Farms, “We grow our own onions July through October and purchase procure our onions the rest of the year. We are looking for growers to grow for us in the fall, winter, and spring months.”
Organics, he said, make up between 10-12 percent of the operation’s total volume, and he noted JJB Family Farms sells to both foodservice and retail year-round. “We saw a shift to retail with COVID, but foodservice has bounced back,” he said. And Derrell addressed transportation, saying, “We’ve had the same trucks haul for us for 20 years. It’s more money, but we are thankful our truckers can get paid more. After all they work hard, too.”
The company offers multiple packaging options:
- Kitchen Counter Merchandising with food shots, recipes and attractive designed presentations all crafted on a carry fresh bag.
- Sleeve Packed Offering packed in a proprietary designed high memory sleeve pack that allows retailers to merchandise in an organized display and turning their onion display from a pile to a neatly stacked offering. PLU Stickers fall off, many if not all retailers are going to or will go to a self-checkout system. This is the solution for PLU Stickers on organics.
- Wine-Glass label – Vexar Packed Bag, the normal choice for retailers and wholesale distributors and also the least expensive.
- Privatized and Co-Packing: We do this now for four separate companies. Our marketing/graphic team works with you to ensure you are proud of your offerings to consumers.
Derrell went on to say, “Every order is packed just like at a Five-Star restaurant, no matter if it is a load of jumbo yellow onions or 18 boxes of 40 lb. PLU stickered jumbo yellow organic onions. Just like at a Five-Star restaurant, we take the order, pack it and ship it the same day.
“When we harvest from our ranches, all our onions come into our facility where they are sized, graded, topped and brushed and packed into bins. They then go on airwalls and are dried and cooled. The onions remain on the airwall until they are sold. Then we pack them and ship them within 24 hours. This is how we do things.”
This coming spring, Derrell said, the company is looking for “organic red, organic yellow and organic white onion supplies, about 40,000 lbs. of red, 40,000 lbs. of yellow and 10,000 lbs. of whites a week for the months of March, April, May, June, July and August.”
He said, “You can find our onion SKUs in over 2,000 stores in California year-round. If you’re a retailer, wholesaler, foodservice company, or a farmer who’s also passionate about onions, we’d love to talk with you.”
Derrell noted that for the upcoming 2022 season, “The Grand Island Ranch onion harvest will start the first in July, and we will finish up in the latter part of October. We hope your season brings great things to others.”
In addition to prepping for onion volume in 2022, JJB is also continuing to expand its facilities with the help of Eqraft Co. of Holland. Derrell said, “For the past 18 months we’ve been working with Rutger Keurhorst of Eqraft Co. and his team in Holland, along with Norman ‘Snap’ Keene who represents Eqraft here in the United States. Our first project was installing the Baxsmatic Eqraft bagging line in 2020-21.” For more information see https://www.eqraft.com/product/baxmatic
And, he said, “We have just finished together designing the first “in-line, pre-sized, five-lane topping line.’ This allows us to retrofit and maximize the diameter of the bars the onions ride across over the blades that trim the tops and roots of the onions. This new line allows us to top the onions effectively after they are sized.”
The innovation is a win/win, Derrell said. “With labor being what it is today, the American farmer continues to get crushed between the cost of goods, harvesting costs, fuel to bring onions in from the field and the ever-improving standards. Retailers, packers on the West Coast, East Coast, Taiwan, Japan, everywhere want the tops off, the roots off. They want a clean, bright onion that looks like it belongs in a seed magazine. In the Northwest, you can set them outside for a month, and they dry and fall off. In California, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico onions up until now were lifted out of the ground by hand and topped with shears, called hand topping. Hand topping days are over now. A farm like ours with our acreage has to pay $27-$28 for H-2A labor to get this done. Those days are over for us now.”
He said, “The next six months are busy for us. Our next project with Eqraft is the building of the onion packing shed of the future. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1W7F5BH96UQ
Many thanks to Derrel and his team for providing us with a JJB Family Farms photo gallery.