That the Fresno, Calif.-based Ag One Foundation chose this year to honor Ed Baloian for his life-long support of California agriculture may have been providence.
The salute to the veteran grower-packer-shipper is a perfect start to celebrating the 25th anniversary of Fresno’s Baloian Farms.
Baloian, the family’s patriarch and president of Baloian Farms, founded the company in 1985 with son Tim Baloian.
Agriculture is more than a career for the family, said Tim Baloian, vice president. It verges on the spiritual.
“We’ve been incredibly blessed,” Tim Baloian said. “We believe God has blessed us, and we try to conduct business the way He’d have us do it.”
The approach appears to have worked. Baloian Farms is among the few major California vegetable grower-packer-shippers not headquartered in one of the coastal growing regions.
The company continues to grow vegetables on its San Joaquin Valley farmland, but Baloian Farms’ acreage and grower associates are widespread, Tim said.
The farmland and the joint ventures stretch from the Santa Clara Valley in the north, down the coast to Santa Maria, Lompoc, Santa Inez and Oxnard and out to the Mojave Desert.
Becoming a grower-partner with Baloian Farms is rarely a short-term relationship. Several of the joint ventures stretch back 20 years — and sometimes more, Tim Baloian said.
“We don’t look for the cheapest farmer,” he said. “We look for the best farmer.”
The expertise Baloian Farms expects of its grower-partners is integral to the company’s goals.
“We want to be the best at what we do, and put up the best products we possibly can,” Tim Baloian said.
“You can grow the best box of leaf, but unless you cut it and pack it right, you can do so much damage to it.”
Bell peppers remain the company’s core commodity, Tim Baloian said, but the inventory also includes leaf lettuce, mixed vegetables, red onions, squash and other specialty vegetables.
While the inventory has expanded over the years, one category has disappeared.
“We’ve stepped away from melons,” Tim Baloian said.
“It had become a difficult market and the water situation made it worse.”
The packing and storage operations are performed in the company’s near new 80-acre complex just west of Fresno.
Construction of the packing and cold storage facility was completed in 2006 — a repacking facility followed — and paved the way for expanding the company’s value added line.
Bagged green bell peppers and stoplight packs of red, green and yellow bells have met with widespread acceptance, he said. The company also is offering bagged chilies.
The 25-year history of Baloian Farms is but a snippet of the Baloian family’s farming history. It was Ed Baloian’s father, Charles Baloian, who in the 1920s first began growing and shipping vegetables in the San Joaquin Valley. Ed Baloian and his brother, James Baloian, joined the family business after serving in the military during World War II.
Twenty years later, the father and sons added a new dimension, Pam Pak Distributors, to pack and market the family’s fresh vegetables and those of other valley growers.
When James Baloian retired in 1985, Ed and Tim bought out other family members and started afresh with Baloian Farms. The firm did retain earmarks of the old organization such as its Marty Boy and Pam Pak labels.
The new company was in operation less than a decade when a disastrous fire gutted most of the packing-storage-office headquarters near downtown Fresno.
It was a setback Baloian Farms would overcome by building the new west Fresno complex. Difficulties are not new to the family. Charles Baloian escaped an already troubled Armenia shortly before the Ottoman Turks launched the infamous Armenian Genocide.
Tim Baloian represents the family’s third-generation in California agriculture. It is not the last. His daughter, Julie, and nephews Peter and John are already active in Baloian Farms.