'We are just the caretakers' : Family enterprise changes with the times
Starrh Farms has been a mainstay in the Shafter community for over 40 years, with the company changing with the times, but still keeping that same small town commitment to the residents of Shafter and the agricultural community.
Jay Kroeker, the operations director for the company, said that the organization loves the community of Shafter and will keep serving them, as well as being caretakers of the land that has been given to them.
Kroeker, who joined the company in the early 1980s, is married to Fred Starrh's daughter Carol and was welcomed into the fold in 1983, after working in farming his entire life.
"I started farming when I would spend summers on my uncle's farm up in Dinuba. I did that for eight years, which is where my love of farming began." Kroeker said, as sees himself as a farmer and a caretaker. "We don't make the trees, we don't make the carrots. God has created this great garden, and we are just the caretakers of His wonderful garden."
Fred Starrh began the operation and had his entire family involved in the business as they grew to one of the top producing operations in the county. In the beginning, they grew cotton and alfalfa, the hot crops at the time, and the business was very good to them.
Starrh himself grew concerned about the challenge of local farmers getting the amount of water that they would need to maintain their crops and fought to see that they could get it. Starrh planted his first almond trees in 1983, seeing the shift in the ag business and what crops would be needed to keep them successful. Before the turn of the century, they shifted their focus from the cotton and alfalfa to the trees. This strategy would prove profitable until the water challenges became too great.
With the winds of change came the water allocations that made it hard for farmers who did not have their own water – mostly from their own wells – to get enough to sustain their businesses. The Starrhs ended up making a tough decision in 2021, when they were faced with stricter allocations and rising costs of water. "We ended up making the hard decision to let the almonds go," said Kroeker. The company ended up abandoning 3,500 acres of almonds. "We are still in the process of removing the trees," he said.
Kroeker said that they are in discussions with a solar company that is interested in using the land, after the trees are scrapped. "This would help offset the costs of the water and operation costs for our existing acreage," he explained.
The Starrh family company now also grows carrots and onions. "We met with all three of the local carrot farmers in the area...They needed land to grow their product on, so we supply the land and grow the carrots for them," Kroeker said. "It is not perfect, but it does keep us being able to sustain our operations with these contracts."
It also helps maintain the over 1,500 acres of pistachio trees and other crops that makes up Starrh Farms today.