Family and Community Top of Mind
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
Jim Maxwell founded Agriland Farming, Inc., a dynamic farm management company based in Madera County, which has grown from less than 2,500 acres in 1990 to oversee more than 25,000 acres of pistachios, almonds, walnuts, grapes, citrus, kiwis, and figs across seven counties, from Stanislaus to Kern.
Agriland’s clients range from individual owners with 40 acres to some of the largest institutional farm owners in the U.S. Their clients include several large nut processors and marketers and individuals from almost every major ethnic background. Maxwell believes that one of the critical strengths of the company is found in the consistent high ethical and business standards of its clients.
Maxwell, Agriland’s CEO, and its innovative management team have built the company into one of the largest nut growers in the U.S. In addition to the farm management divisions, Agriland has expanded specialized mechanical services available to outside clients.
“We originally started pistachio and almond harvesting companies to help our clients avoid the risks associated with late harvests, and we have ended up harvesting for many of our neighbors,” Maxwell said.
This same philosophy is why Agriland now runs a deep-well pump company; a farm supply company; and a more recent start-up dedicated to mechanical hedging and topping, mechanical stacking of pruning brush, mummy nut shredding, setting floors for a “no-till” approach to orchard floor management, and AF36 spreading to control aflatoxin in pistachios.
There is no doubt that talented managers and staff across all agricultural production disciplines have helped the company excel in providing “state of the art” farming services to owners of permanent crops. The approximately 275-full-time farm employees, some of whom have been with the company from the beginning, are asked to treat the trees and vines as though they are their own.
It is this mentality of employee responsibility and ownership that has helped Agriland excel in the farm management industry. From top to bottom at Agriland, all workers are considered to be part of the “family” and are often referred to as “associates”—as opposed to the traditional term “farmworkers”—and they are recognized as the company’s number one resource.
Maxwell and his team try to treat every member of the Agriland Family with dignity, respect, and compassion.
“We believe that it is not only the right and proper thing to do but that our clients and company will succeed based on how we treat each of its members.”
Hence, the company conveys compassion for its top resource by providing a wellness plan for every employee and their family. The company also hosts an on-the-farm health clinic, offers a 401K program, and gives holiday and paid time off to field employees.
The idea behind the health clinic began even before ObamaCare (the Affordable Care Act or ACA) was passed.
“I knew that although our associates would have access to ObamaCare, they would not be able to afford the subsidized insurance,” Maxwell explained. “Furthermore, they were not willing to buy coverage because most had not been to a doctor for many years and therefore did not see the need.”
“So, we entered into a joint venture with Camarena Health—a community-based healthcare provider,” he continued. “We built the small onsite brick and mortar clinic, staffed by Camarena doctors, nurses and other medical specialists regularly. Each company employee, individually and privately, meets with a doctor in a room equipped with an exam table and all of the important screening devices.”
“At the clinic, we do a biometric health screening for those associates who want it,” Maxwell said.
The screening measures physical characteristics such as height, weight, body mass index, vision, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and aerobic fitness, in addition to an A1C blood test to determine one’s risk of diabetes better. The screening and testing performed at the clinic are in addition to the health booths set up at picnics and harvest celebrations where employees can sit down and check their blood sugar and blood pressure.
“When we started testing, we wanted to identify the employees who were diabetic, pre-diabetic, or hypertensive, because we felt like these were health issues that, if identified early and treated properly, could help these ‘family members’ and make a meaningful, long term difference in their lives,” Maxwell explained
“The goal is to benchmark and evaluate changes in general employee health status over time,” he continued. “Once the metrics are understood, management establishes classes, such as nutrition and weight loss courses, which are presented during evening classes for employees and spouses to attend. We bring in instructors to teach those who are diabetic, pre-diabetic, or hypertensive what to do to protect their health.”
Of course, employees are not obligated to come to the clinic, but Maxwell encourages them by paying them for the time they are there.
“At first, very few employees signed up. Then I pleaded with them to go to the clinic to make sure they were healthy or to identify areas of health needing improvement. Still, very few stepped up.”
So Maxwell offered an incentive, a $50 Walmart or Save Mart gift card, “and that dramatically increased the signups.”
In addition to health-related classes, the company provides English as Second Language night classes for employees and their families.
“We built the Training Center for two purposes: to serve those who work here and their families and to serve the needs of the community.”
The company actively promotes the education of the children of their farm workforce by incentivizing academic excellence in middle school and high school, followed by college scholarships for those who qualify.
“We have to be able to tell seventh graders that if they get good grades and are qualified to go to college, we will be there for them by the time they graduate from high school. Our scholarships are generally $2,500 per student, per year, for four years of college attendance. When we give them the first scholarship check, we also present them with a new laptop computer for them to use in college,” Maxwell said.
Many farmworker families, going back generations, have never had a family member go to college.
“If a child of one of our farm employees works hard, gets good grades, and goes to college, he or she will likely be the first generation and possibly break the cycle,” Maxwell said. “And I believe that the children of these students will follow their parents and also go to college.”