Oregon native Kimi Fitch spent 15 years in the IEO area’s education system before making the quantum leap to the onion industry, and today, after a year with Jamieson Produce in Vale, OR, she speaks both fluent onion-ese and school-talk.
“I was born in Ontario, OR, and raised in Jamieson, OR, on the farm where my dad and brother farm now,” Kimi told OnionBusiness.com.
Kimi said her onion industry experience leading to her position at Jamieson was “limited,” but it started during her early childhood.
She said was taught about onions by “being raised and working on a farm that produced several different crops. I did various jobs – driving tractor, irrigating, driving harvest truck, strawing rows in the onion field, working cows, etc.” And, of course, there’s the royalty part.
“My claim to fame was I was Onion Queen for Malheur County when I about five years old,” Kimi laughed.
Her love for education (“My husband says I have college ADHD,” she said as an aside…) also came from her own small-community schooling and deepened as she progressed through the grades.
“I went to Willowcreek Grade School for K-8 and then attended Vale High School,” she said. “After high school I attended two years at Western Oregon University and then transferred and graduated from Willamette University in Salem with a Business Economics degree.” Studies were complemented by sports: “I also played volleyball at Willamette while in attendance.”
Though she’s now in an admin position with Jamieson Produce, a shipper member of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, she went through administrative training via teaching and serving as principal in the Treasure Valley school system.
“After receiving my undergraduate degree, I attend the University of Portland and received a Master of Arts in teaching,” Kimi said. She taught at Nyssa Elementary for seven years and then received her school admin license, after which she joined the Fruitland, ID, School District. She served as principal at the intermediate school for three years and then as principal of the middle school for five years before coming to Jamieson Produce.
And, she said, the pieces have fallen into place as if by design.
“I was born and raised here locally,” she said, adding, “But I knew I wanted to leave the area for college. I also knew I could always come back, but I wanted to experience another area for college… [and I] always knew I wanted to live and raise a family in a small community.”
Moreover, her 15 years in education provided a good crossover to serving in an administrative capacity in the onion industry, Kimi explained.
“My experience [in onions] is limited, but all the experience I have gathered in education I feel can still be of benefit to any working environment,” she said. “The education environment is always changing, and you have to be open to change all the time. As a principal, I never knew what was going to get thrown at me each day. So I was constantly assessing the situation and problem solving.”
The connection comes there: “Problem-solving skills are essential in any job but especially the ever-changing produce business,” she observed. “I am excited to learn about the industry and feel fortunate to be surrounded by a wealth of knowledge.”
The two environments are also connected by technology, which Kimi said “forces any industry or business to change. It improves the efficiency, and I think it is exciting to see it happen. It’s an exciting challenge to have.
“Shed technology for JPI has evolved over the last few years as well. We built our first cold storages two years ago and are currently building two more. This allows us to pack onions year-round.”
Kimi followed up by saying, “I see the industry being more automated to improved efficiency and because of the rise in labor costs for businesses in Oregon.”
In her own sphere, she and her husband, Mike have been happily married for 12 years. He shares her passion for education and is the principal at Fruitland High School.
“He also helps coach football and is the head basketball coach. Go Grizzlies!” Kimi said.
“We have two wonderful children. I know parents say that about their children, but ours are truly great. They are kind-hearted, respectful and funny kids.”
Son Sutton is eight years old and a third-grader at Fruitland Elementary. Daughter Kennedy just turned seven and is in first grade.
Outside of work, “… most of our free time revolves around our kids’ activities or Fruitland athletic events. Sutton loves all things sports. He played baseball most of the summer and is now in football. Kennedy enjoys gymnastics and will begin her soccer season soon.” And Kimi, too, has athletic endurance pursuits: “My early, early morning free time hours typically include running. I just completed my second marathon at the end July. It will most likely be my last.”
The family also raises critters, as “Papa thinks the grandkids always need a project – bottle calves.”
And husband Mike, who was not raised on a farm, is finding himself in the process of, in Kimi’s words, being converted.