Keith Matthews was chosen as one of the Top 25 National Produce Professionals by The Packer for 2011. “Mathews traces his success to mentors including his father in law, Rainier owner Bill Zirkle and Ralph Broetje, owner of Broetje Orchards, Prescott, Wash., whose product FirstFruits Marketing (FFM) markets. From those mentors and others, Mathews said he developed a management style that gives people the freedom to do their jobs, but steers them in the right direction when they need steering. “My philosophy is to counsel and empower,” he said. “I strongly believe that people need to have a lot of responsibility. But I give them the tools and the counsel to compete the task.”
FFM was founded in August of 2009 when the Broetje Orchards chose to set their own sales and marketing business together to represent their fruit instead of working thru a private third party seller. Nine of the staff from the prior seller moved over to FFM; we hired 5 people brand new to the industry; and balanced with 9 experienced folks that left competitors. A part of the “pull” to FFM was the moral structure of Broetje Orchards as a company who desires to practice a code of ethics in the marketplace, as well as the challenge of the volume of fruit to be sold. The days are long and fraught in a high volume and high pressure sales environment. Each week we sell 150-200 full semi-truck loads of fresh apples and pears across the USA and to many nations across the globe. Each week we provide about 6-7 million pounds of wholesome and healthy food to people across the world.
A large number of the FFM staff are demonstrative Christians who live their lives biblically. I equate the application of SL principles to how I have been taught since early childhood to lead my life. But this work environment has freed me (and most others) to put our faith to work in new ways. At FFM, I work to empower and trust others to “do their work”. This means that managers are encouraged to solve problems, manage their assigns in ways that demonstrate caring, and given the opportunity to think independently to solve problems. I do “oversee” but mostly ask them for their direction and confirm it.
At FFM, we enjoy the ability to help people in experience and growth. Last year we were able to send 2 staff to the Marylhurst SL conference—compensate them for the cost and not charge them with the days away. This year we are likely to send 2 more so that they can gain insight into how SL applies to business and to life–and then to apply those principals during the work day.
At FFM, we are remarkably fortunate that the owners set up the business to provide the first portion of profit for FFM employees to allocate to peoples in need across the world. So FFM, with a portion of those funds, has joined a Central American Non-Profit called Agros International as a corporate sponsor. Agros uses these funds to establish agricultural production communities in the outback of Honduras and relocates, educates, houses, folks who live in slums on the edges of cities. Those people can begin to grow economically and in self sufficiency. FFM staff has the priviledge and unusual ability to travel to this rural settlement to work alongside these people to better the lives and future of their families. Three FFM staff will travel there this summer.
At FFM, our community is still forming, but it helps that we have the opportunity to come together and contribute to the needs of others in a variety of ways. FFM collectively has provided funds to Broetje orchard employees in 3 or 4 cases of serious need and illness. We have collected funds internally to help in a number of situations of need in the general Yakima community. Employees of FFM have taken on a number of help projects to include working at a foodbank and delivering food to elementary kids in need (weekend backpacks of food). We were able to fund $5000 to the needs in Haiti thru Food for the Poor. We were able to send funds to help the refugees from Somalia to Kenya thru World Vision. All of these projects come about because of consideration and agreement within the employees of FFM. This builds awareness of the world’s needs and a “can help” attitude. Our business has a 4 person Missions Commission that meets regularly to help move these contributions downstream. FFM is currently working alongside Jubilee Christian Academy to host a fund raising golf tournament this summer. We believe this describes what it means for us to be about doing business as ministry….servant leadership in action.
FFM board has designated the Opal apple (which Broetje Orchards holds the exclusive North American rights to) as a special gift with a special purpose “Taste the difference, make a difference”. To “make a difference”, we set aside 25c per case from each sale and asked the retailer/customer to do the same. Of course the production of this exclusive variety will increase over time, but this year we generated a fund pool of $20,000. In working to find a “difference”, we found Katie Stagliano of Katie’s Krops. As a 10 year old she grew a cabbage, and donated it to a soup kitchen near her home in S. Carolina. As she helped serve the cabbage soup that night, she realized this was a way for her to make a difference. She recruited her 4th grade classmates and planted a really big garden. They donated the food to the soup kitchen and her 4th grade friends prepared and served and ate with the homeless. Now with the help of Opal, Katie and her mom plan to provide funds to plant 35 gardens by grade schoolers across the nation to provide food to those in need. FFM is a small part of this story.