Farming is the Family Tradition at Heinrich Farms - West Coast Nut

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Farming is the Family Tradition at Heinrich Farms

By Jenny Holtermann | Contributing Writer
Published: April 7, 2020 • 1647 views

Eric Heinrich walks through a young almond orchard (Photos by J. Holtermann.)

Agriculture runs deep in the Heinrich family. You could even say it is in their blood. Gordon Heinrich, the patriarch, is a fifth-generation farmer and farming with three of his sons, Eric, Phil and Jerad. All nine of the Heinrich offspring have ties back to agriculture, whether it be an equipment engineer, irrigation specialist, pest control advisor, or nutritionist. Farming is the family tradition.

In the mid-60s, Gordon’s father started farming almonds after selling his dairy. He grew up understanding hard work and had a desire to build his own farming legacy. Gordon is grateful for the opportunities that presented themselves over the years.

“Farming is a tough thing to get into, and I was blessed my father helped me get started. With some hard work, things started to fall into place. The good Lord blessed us. I always wanted to farm, and I enjoyed working alongside my dad when I was young,” Gordon said.

He knew he wanted to provide the same for his children. Over the years, Gordon was able to establish his own farm and build the foundation the family knows today. He eventually grew his farm to now specializing in almond and walnut farming, commercial spraying, management, and harvesting, as well as operating a walnut huller and dryer based in Modesto, Calif.

Heinrich Farms is a fifth-generation farming operation run by the Heinrich family, from left, Phil, Jerad, Eric and father Gordon.

The three sons had a desire to farm as well but worked elsewhere before returning to the family farm. Eric, the oldest son, had opportunities to start his own custom farming business. Once Heinrich Farms grew larger, he was able to incorporate his spraying business into the family farm. With the onset of increasing regulations, Eric was able to provide benefit by tackling the regulatory aspect of the family farm and provide his expertise.

Jerad claims he never left, but he admits he briefly worked for a bus company and is still a full-time firefighter for Modesto Fire Department. He always worked for the farm during harvest, but it wasn’t until after he graduated with his AA degree that he became more involved in 2003. Jerad enjoys working with his hands and specializes in mechanics, running harvest activities and new orchard development.

Six years ago, Phil missed his love for farming. He worked in construction and was even a security company owner but had a longing to get back to his roots. Phil said, “My dad said he had a little work for me, not sure how much at the beginning. It turned out he was able to keep me busy.” Now Phil manages the walnut huller and dryer as well as the day to day farming.

Phil Heinrich left work in construction to return to the farm and manage the huller and dryer.

Gordon was pleased to bring his sons back into the family business. He said in the end, “the feeling was we were stronger together than apart.”

“Each one of the boys has special talents, their jobs evolved around their talents. It kind of keeps us out of each other’s hair. But if needed, we all get out there and irrigate at midnight, or jump on the tractor in the middle of the day or whatever it takes to get the job done. We are all willing to be there,” he said.

They may have their expertise and their tasks throughout the day, but everyone helps out where needed and can fill in when the other gets caught up on something else.

Gordon beams with pride as he discusses the ability of any of his children to aid in keeping their farm successful.

“Even my daughter, who is a schoolteacher, assisted with harvest last year. All my children have been hands-on and worked on the farm at some part.”

A key to their success is the longevity of their employees.

“We are fortunate to have guys work for us for 20 to 30 years,” Phil said. “It means something to them to do a good job. They pride themselves in their work.”

Heinrich farms know that the people who work for them have families to feed too. They want to make their farm a desirable place to work. By setting an example of hard work and perseverance, the Heinrich family shows firsthand how to work together as a team.

They can make it work by genuinely operating as a family unit. The three sons all returned to the farm at different points in their lives and personal development. Each bringing something to offer and compliment the other, so they all prosper.

“We evolved, adapted and grew into our positions as needed. As the team needs us, we rise to assist. There is something kind of special to be able to work with your family. You understand each other,” Eric said.

When discussing key challenges to their farm, Gordon states, “one of the biggest challenges to our business is regulations; anything from water, pesticides, dust, labor. Everything is consistently changing. What might have been legal a few years back, now you might not be able to offer that anymore. Staying compliant and up-to-date is challenging.”

As Eric tackles the regulatory side of the business, he agreed.

“We want to comply and by being engaged with solutions, we can get our voice out there,” Eric said.

Eric credits his involvement with California Farm Bureau Federation and political advocacy for his ability to stay on top of regulations. He also points to social media as a tool to better help him advocate.

“It is an interesting point in history where we can be on our ranch, on our tractor and be able to share your story with agriculture. To be able to be active in telling the real story is an important part of shaping public opinion.”

He sees telling the farming story as a vital part of the business and the success of being able to combat challenges.

“I love the challenge, always doing something different and constantly learning new things, being the best stewards of the land, and hoping to pass it down to the next generation,” he said.

As to Phil’s favorite part of farming, he loves being able to watch the growth as the seasons change. “I enjoy watching things grow and your hard work pay off. As soon as we see the buds swell and the leaves start to push, I love it.”

Watching their hard work grow and keeping the farm alive for the next generation is evident in all their responses. Jerad adds, “having relationships in the community, and being a part of a farming community is extremely rewarding.”

The overall love and passion for agriculture runs deep in the Heinrich blood. Gordon is proud to be able to share this life with his sons.

“I have to pinch myself when I get up in the morning. I enjoy working with my sons. That they have the same interest as me, love for farming, love for growing crops,” Gordon said.

Gordon Heinrich is proud to share the farming tradition with his sons.