Founder of grower-shipper J.F. Palmer dies - The Packer

Founder of grower-shipper J.F. Palmer dies

07/31/2003 12:00:00 AM
Ryan Swarts

(July 31) Season after season, whether the dark clouds poured down their lifeblood or the hot Texas sun stole it from them, one thing about those fields remained constant: that truck, parked neatly alongside them, on a country road.

For the last couple of seasons, it happened to be a newer, white extended cab. But no matter the style, for the past 30-plus years his truck was there. And Forrest Palmer was in the fields.

See, he never believed in “windshield farming” — driving around the perimeter of a farm and peaking through a car window to gauge its pulse. No, even at age 78, you could still see him in those fields.

He had to walk them because deep down, he always was a farmer — and this was his land.


Palmer, veteran onion man and Texas Produce Association hall of famer, died July 18. His son, Gary, worked with him for 30 years.

As vice president and co-owner of Pharr, Texas-based J.F. Palmer & Sons Produce Inc., Gary Palmer continues crossing those fields today. But he knows it isn’t the same.

“Prior to him passing, I always said that I’m putting the puzzle together,” Gary Palmer said of life. “Now I am still putting it together, but I’m missing the boxtop.”

A lifelong resident of Pharr, Palmer worked in the produce industry for his entire adult life, serving and holding offices in the Texas Produce Association for 44 years. He was inducted into the association’s hall of fame March 4, 2002.

As a young man, Forrest Palmer took a job with Valley Fruit & Vegetable Co., Pharr. After working there shortly, he began an 18-year tenure at Jancik & Hartness Produce Co., Pharr, which later became John Jancik Produce Co.


In 1973, the senior Palmer started J.F. Palmer, which still today handles only onions. Even though he was officially retired, he still worked every day until recently.

In addition to his firm handshake and warm smile, his son, Mike Palmer, secretary-treasurer and co-owner of J.F. Palmer & Sons, said Forrest Palmer will be remembered for his matter-of-fact demeanor.

While he came from the old school, he wasn’t bound to it. Gary Palmer said his father was always looking for new ways improve the crop.

“He was always learning. He hated the status quo,” Gary Palmer said.


Mike Palmer said his father always had the farmer at heart because that’s what he was.

“He had compassion for the farmer, and would do whatever was best for him no matter what,” Mike Palmer said. “Many times we sacrificed our bottom line to help them.”

As a farmer, he knew that droughts can come as quickly and last much longer than a Texas thunderstorm. He knew it wasn’t supposed to be easy.

“He lived and breathed agriculture. He applied the philosophy that success is not easy, and he would do literally whatever it took to accomplish the task,” Gary Palmer said.

If it meant staying up all night to get work done, Gary Palmer said his dad would do it.

Even at dusk, after a day’s work had been finished, his truck would be out there by the fields some nights. He just needed to get another look.

“You’ve got to have a lot of discipline to stick with it,” Forrest Palmer said after his induction into the hall of fame. “You can’t get too down in the mouth about it when times are tough. A better day will come.”

His dad never was his best friend but a mentor, Gary Palmer said. With his guide gone, he will have to find his own way.

But they’ll always have the fields.

In addition to Gary and Mike, he is survived by his wife of 48 years, Bennie Lee Palmer; daughter, Jane Alexander; son, Danny; and eight grandchildren.

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Cheryl Bailey    
San Antonio, TX  |  January, 15, 2012 at 12:49 AM

What an Amazingly Incredible story of heart wrenching love and determination for business and for Mankind! Thank you so much ffor sharing your story...soo Respected and Appreciated.

William Pabon    
brownsville, tx  |  April, 25, 2013 at 09:19 AM

Sorry for your loss Gary, what an incredible story. Will always keep you and your family in my prayers. You are definitely a story yourself and i know your dad be proud. Thanks for sharing his story, it reminded me of other farmers i have met; those that we call "real farmers", there in there 70s and still out there loving the land. God bless them all. As a former truck driver i do miss those onion hauls :). As a freight broker agent, now everytime i send an onion load i will always think of this story. Take care and God Bless

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