Meet Your Board of Directors
How long has Stemilt been in business?
Although our family ownership has been farming on Stemilt Hill in Wenatchee for a century, the company was started in 1964 as a grower.
As a family-run business, what are some of the challenges posed that perhaps you wouldn't deal with in a non-family setting?
The biggest challenge is that we represent not only a business but a family with a personal reputation - the Mathison family. We need to represent the business well but also know that the family behind the business is here for the long haul.
What values are most central to Stemilt Growers?
Follow the law, team culture, innovation, family-oriented and sustainability.
We work with many people in our business from retailers to government to suppliers to employees. Following the law allows you to never have to look back and question your behavior. We work in a team culture that relies on more than one department or person to get a job done correctly. We have always been an innovative company, which reflects in our growth. We are a family-owned company which reflects in our value of everyone's family who works here. Finally, sustainability has been a part of our business since 1989 when we established our Responsible Choice program.
What are some of the challenges Stemilt has faced in the past year?
Our biggest challenges have been weather (which will never leave us), the economy, which has a big effect on our retail partners and their approach to business, escalating costs of insurance and the labor issue (which we have had a temporary reprieve due to unemployment levels in the U.S.).
In terms of new products, projects or processes, what are you working on?
During the past year we have acquired Dovex, who was our neighbor and a competitor. Dovex has facilities that touch our existing property which has allowed us to consolidate our production facilities and streamline our logistics. Our goal is to reduce the amount of handling, mileage and redundancies that we put into the packing process. Through this acquisition we have consolidated our controlled-atmosphere facilities for stored fruit to have 85% of our fruit within 10 miles of packing. This will result in savings in fuel, labor and equipment. We are also deeply engaged in growing and marketing our Piñata apple which we own the rights to in the U.S. We are continuing to build our reputation, services and programs around being the largest organic tree fruit packer and marketing company in the U.S. Additionally, we believe that the consumer wants organic products more than ever in our history and we need to provide a pathway for this product to succeed in the marketplace.
Of the issues that we deal with as an industry, which strike a chord with you the most and why?
Now that is a tough one. Our sustainability program is probably the answer and I will tell you why. People are our biggest resource and they also are a part of our sustainability program. We focus on people in both our company - labor - and in the community through this program. Food safety is also part of this program as it drives a safe food source as well as increases our quality and reduces costs when done properly. All our products are nutritious and we market our products that way. We also are a large contributor to the Produce for Better Health Foundation who keeps us focused on how our industry faces nutrition and consumption in the U.S.
Given that for many in the industry, "sustainability" is still a somewhat nebulous term, can you tell us what it means for Stemilt? How do you approach being sustainable?
Sustainability is composed of "planet, profit and people," and all three need to come into place. This refers to the environmental concerns of returning things the way they were given you, such as land, water and air. The people is a social matter in regards to treating people right, being community involved and having an overall concern for your most important asset - people. Profit is the thing that is necessary to continue to farm and market, and if you do the other two right, it increases your chances of being profitable.
How does Stemilt interact with the surrounding community, both in a community service sense and in a business sense?
Stemilt is one of the largest employers in our county of Chelan, which of course results in a large impact economically. We provide medical insurance to all our workers which includes an on-premise clinic with is free to our workers. We are a donor to the Washington Apple Education Foundation, through which we sponsor scholarships. We also sponsor the Washington Apple Blossom Parade in Wenatchee which is a huge vehicle of community pride.
As an apple operation in a state so readily identified with that commodity, how else do you culture a Washington State identity? Does that identity come in to play in the form of any locally grown programs?
Stemilt is blessed to farm in eastern Washington as it truly is the best grounds for growing apples in the world. Rather than a locally-grown stance, we regularly communicate the unique 'locale' of where our fruits are grown in order to culture that Washington State identity and share with consumers where and how their foods are being grown. We talk often about how our arid climate and volcanic soils combine to produce crisp, juicy and flavorful apples. We also share pictures and videos via our social media pages in order to bring the farm to the consumer.
What is one thing that your industry peers don’t know about your company?
I often receive inquiries to talk to Mr. Stemilt. Of course our company is owned by the Mathison family but here is a tidbit. "Stemilt" is a Native American word for "foothills." It’s also a region of rich volcanic soil nestled in the Cascade Slopes near Wenatchee where the Mathison family has lived and farmed since 1893. Over 100 years and four generations later, Stemilt means delicious, premium-quality fruit.
Provided we can't talk to Mr. Stemilt, what are some of your personal philosophies and experiences that help to shape your leadership style? What’s one thing about you that your colleagues on the board don't know?
I grew up in a hardworking family as a kid. Today I am lucky enough to have been married to Joni, my wife of 32 years. Joni has made me a stronger person and shares my goals of personal excellence which is a journey. I was a retailer for 21 years and have purchased most products in the produce department at one time or another. I am also the biggest Spartan fan in America as I received my degree in horticulture from Michigan State University.