By Jenifer VanAlstein, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
Johnston Farms is a unique farming company in that they grow both row crops as well as permanent crops. In their operations, they have approximately 1,700 acres of citrus (oranges, mandarins, grapefruit), 900 acres of potatoes, 1,600 acres of bell peppers, and 150 acres of carrots (not including acreage with outside growers) all in Kern County.
The variety of crops allows Johnston Farms to adapt to the changing regulatory climate with more ease than those who have only permanent crops.
I recently sat down with Jaclyn Green of Johnston Farms to learn more about the company that has called Kern County home for 75 years.
VanAlstein: Where is Johnston Farms located? What are the benefits of your location?
Green: All of our acreage is in the Arvin Edison Water District. My dad serves on the Water District Board. This is a great location to farm not only for the rich land, but we are situated within a water district that has been very prudent with resources. In fact, as a company, we were able to work with the water district to build settling ponds during the last wet year.
VanAlstein: Can you give us the history of your company?
Green: Johnston Farms was started by my great grandfather 75 years ago. He had started working on the railroad at age 12. He was transferred to the Bay Area but didn’t want to live in San Francisco, so he settled in Kern County in the 1940s and planted potatoes. He made money his first year and farmed ever since. Next year (in 2022), we will be celebrating our 75th anniversary. In that time, we’ve grown everything from grapes, to cotton; from citrus to bell peppers. My siblings and cousins and I are the 4th generation running the company. My job is basically to do all the things Dad doesn’t want to do anymore. That includes I.T., operations, government relations, etc. Business is so different now than it was even 15 years ago. The way California regulations are, you have to be involved in every step of the process. Which is why we joined the Kern County Farm Bureau.
VanAlstein: Speaking of the Farm Bureau, what is your take as a fairly new member?
Green: Well, we just joined about 4 months ago. I’m still learning the ropes. I’m excited to get more involved. But I’m doing what I can to stay involved and be more abreast on SGMA and other regulations.
VanAlstein: What is your take on SGMA?
Green: I think overall SGMA is good for the state. We already have some fallowed land that will probably remain empty, which allows for some offsets on our water use. Overall, sustainable water policy was needed, and I believe everyone is headed in the right direction. In the long run it will be a good thing.
VanAlstein: How has COVID affected business?
Green: I believe COVID is going to completely change a lot of things. Even though we were fortunate to continue to operate as an essential business, I think some of the policies that came out of the pandemic will be here to stay. For instance, I think the sick time policy will remain. Labor has been difficult in this state for a while, and COVID didn’t help. Luckily, we never had to shut down, but there were times where we had to drastically slow down our operations. I am very proud of the fact that as a company, we were the first to work with Kern Medical to bring the vaccine efforts to the field and offer on-site clinics for our seasonal and permanent employees.
I think, in general, farmers have always had to be able to adapt. Farming has a lot of challenges, but it is very, very rewarding.