For John and Cherie France, the special bond between father and daughter takes on more significance when you work side-by-side in one of the nation’s most respected family owned and operated organic fruit operations.
Homegrown Organic Farms can trace its organic roots to 1989, when husband and wife John and Cindy France attained organic certification for their own farm. They faced a difficult road at the time – large, conventional marketing co-ops to which they belonged refused to market organic produce, several co-ops went through bankruptcies, and distributors required exclusivity.
By the mid-1990s, John and Cindy decided to build their own fruit packing facility and form their own marketing company, now known as Homegrown Organic Farms, in order to better service their growers. The company’s mission, vision and values have remained nearly the same – to exceed customer expectations, return the best possible return to the grower, and display love and grace to everyone in the supply chain.
“One of the early draws for our marketing company was that we were growers first,” said John France. “I wanted to treat growers the same way I wanted marketing organizations to treat me. We stand for integrity financially and in our relationship with the grower. Growers rely on us to know the marketplace, sell their product and make a single annual payday adequate for their economic sustainability year-round.”
Daughter Cherie France had not planned to join the family business. In fact, she never wanted to come back to Homegrown or even California after spending her childhood working in the fields of the farm. Not one to enjoy the heat, bugs, or itchy peach fuzz involved with farming, Cherie sees the value of her childhood experience and appreciates the process of getting a piece of fruit to grocery stores, as well as the hard work done by the labor force.
“My childhood experience allows me to do my job better, “Cherie said. “ I understand and have lived the entire process from field to fork.”
After graduating from college, Cherie talked to Homegrown CEO Scott Mabs about a temporary office job. He responded by offering her a sales and marketing assistant position and she accepted. Cherie has since transitioned to the marketing department, where she currently serves as marketing manager.
John and Cindy decided early on that they did not want to directly supervise any of their children working at Homegrown. “It is very difficult to continually walk that line between what’s best for the company and what’s best for our children,” said John. “Still, Cherie can come into my office and speak as a daughter talking to her dad without having to worry about crossing a supervisorial line. And as a father, one of my great joys is to walk down the hall and greet my daughter with a hug and kiss on the forehead when she is in the office. Not many fathers get to share that with their children on a daily basis.”
As company founders, John and Cindy recognize that eventually they will need to step back to ensure the longevity of the company. They have installed younger, talented, more energetic team members who can take Homegrown to the next level. Their job, as described by John is to “make sure that the mission, vision and values of the company remain at the forefront. The grower is our client and we must ensure that they are taken care of with honesty and integrity. That’s what makes a successful marketing company.”
“I’ve worked with the Homegrown family for many years,” says Mike Lappin, produce director, Earth Fare Markets, Asheville, NC. “We see the family’s passion for growing the highest quality delicious products. We partner with Homegrown because they’re great people with great products.”
Cherie describes the challenge of working for her father’s company as her greatest opportunity. “My dad is one of the organic pioneers and that brings a lot of credibility and respect to who we are – who Homegrown is – and our foundation. I have the unique opportunity to ride the coat tails of the foundation my dad built and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”