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Steward of the land Fort Boise Produce holds family traditions close

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Technological advances at Fort Boise Produce extend from the sales desks to the warehouse, with video inspections available for viewing on-line. General Manager Joe Farmer and Sales Manager Ashley Roberts keep in sync with the goings-on in all aspects of the operation.

PARMA, ID — While it was founded in 1982 by brothers Warren and Jim Farmer, Fort Boise Produce’s connection to the Treasure Valley and its lifeblood of agriculture goes back more than 100 years.

And, according to General Manager Joe Farmer, it is that inextricable connection to the land that elevates the operation and the Idaho-Eastern Oregon onion industry above the rest of the world.

“We are a family operation,” Mr. Farmer said in July. “We own the ground that we farm. And we are stewards of the land.”

As such, the Farmer family and Fort Boise Produce “take care of the resources that take care of us,” he said.

That philosophy held true for Mr. Farmer’s forebears as well. In the early 1900s, after years of moving his sheep from summer pastures in Utah to winter ground in Idaho, rancher James Farmer made a permanent move to the Treasure Valley, and the family began farming.

After World War II, Mr. Farmer and his son, Warren, began growing sugar beets, potatoes, lettuce and onions. The next generation was Warren Farmer’s two sons, Warren and Jim, founders of Fort Boise Produce. Joe Farmer, son of Jim, and fourth generation of the Farmer family to be in IEO agriculture, said his lineage is an important part of the big picture.

“It’s the connection,” he said when asked why IEO onions are “All-American Winners.”

Sales Manager Ashley Robertson agreed, noting, “We know where are product is, start to finish. We have a program that allows us to track it, and the regulations we adhere to are more in-depth than those of other countries.”

Mr. Farmer said, “With food-safety regulations, we feel they are opportunities for us to ship out healthy, safe product. Our name is on it. It represents us. And that’s not always the case with what other countries think or do. They may not take the same pride in their product as we do.”

Technologically, the United States is far more advanced than many other nations.

In the family’s fields, which are overseen by Mr. Farmer’s uncle, Warren Farmer, advancements include a “huge conversion to drip irrigation,” Joe Farmer said.

“And on the packing line, we have software that allows our onions to travel a more controlled pathway from storage to pack. It eliminates a lot of the handling, and it has streamlined the number of hands that come in contact with the onions.”

Fort Boise onions are also planted mechanically, harvested mechanically and brought into storage mechanically.

“They are touched by fewer than 10 people,” Mr. Farmer said.

In addition, roller sizers have been replaced with computer-automated equipment, and the shed also has video inspections that are posted on line at traceproduce.com, Mr. Farmer said.

The traceability provided through traceproduce.com is available for other sheds, and customers can use it to track the onions.

In the office, where Ms. Robertson has begun her third season, sales boards utilize an in-house network that is web-based and shows all orders and shipping.

“It is tied with the warehouse, loading and shipping,” Ms. Robertson said, adding that the color-coded ledger was developed by the staff.

Drawing on their individual agriculture backgrounds and familial ties to the region, Ms. Robertson and Mr. Farmer agree that their generation has stepped into leadership positions in the IEO industry.

And what about the future for them and coming generations — the next “crop” of “All-American Winners?”

“The sky’s the limit,” Ms. Robertson said.