Broetje Orchards established in 1968
Ralph and Cheryl Broetje established Broetje Orchards in 1968, when they first settled onto a small cherry orchard in Benton City, Washington. As a teenager, Ralph had dreamed of one day owning an orchard and using profits to help children in India. While the work of starting a business was slow in the beginning, and they endured many challenges and tests along the way, people came around them in those early years to help make the dream a reality.
The Broetje family moved to Prescott, Washington, a move forced by intersecting changes across the country. It was a time of economic recession and the related “farm crisis,” which resulted in many farms like ours losing operating loans and the ability to stay in business. It was also a time of shifting labor, as domestic workers slowed their migration and were subsequently replaced by young, men from Mexico desperate for work to feed their families.
The year of starting over
For the Broetjes, 1983 was a year of remembering God’s call on the business to serve children in need. Over Christmas break, Ralph and Cheryl took their own children to the US-Mexico border, where they volunteered with a nonprofit serving impoverished and displaced communities in garbage slums and brick-making colonias. This experience provided much-needed insights into the realities of economic refugees and the role that business could play to be a positive force of change.
Becoming an economic engine for social change
By 1987, the business had recovered and a decision was made to build a packing line and shipping warehouse, making Broetje Orchards a vertically integrated company. This also made 100 new jobs immediately available — of which many were filled by women. These women shared new stories about their families and the difficult living conditions in which they lived.
As first generation immigrants from Mexico, they were strangers in a new land and eager to find work. They had come with little more than the hope for a better life, for themselves and for their children. Upon arrival, they faced huge challenges — housing located in overcrowded and violent neighborhoods; lack of extended family to provide safe childcare; and high school-drop-out rates hindering the potential of youth.
It became clear that Broetje Orchards was being called to serve these families. As managers worked to nurture caring relationships, the company became an economic engine for social change – investing in such initiatives as children’s education, safe housing, leadership development, and community and workplace engagement. Over the next 30 years, we learned what kinds of partnerships it takes to nurture flourishing communities, and how to encourage engagement and sustainability.
Selling the farm
In 2018, the Broetje family made the decision to sell the farm and community to a new company. With this transition, new opportunities emerged: managers who stayed with the farm assumed leadership for sustaining this unique way of doing business in community; and the Broetje family took the lessons learned as guiding principles for how to more heavily invest in multiplying this work around the world.
The pages of this website tell the story of the outgrowth of this ministry on one farm, and how that lived community has became the spark for a global movement.