Farmer Feature: A Fresh Look on Farming

Farmer Bob McKellar holding a basket of fresh fruit.s and vegetables.

It’s often said, “a farmer’s job is never done.”

Farmers work hard to till the land, plant the seeds, harvest the crops, fix the machines and tend to the animals. After the sun sets, they go to bed just to wake up the next morning and repeat the day all over again.

One Ivanhoe farmer does all that and more.

Bob McKellar, president of McKellar Farms Inc., is an innovator, a creative thinker and a business man. With help and though he wouldn’t say it, he’s been the mastermind behind the success of the near century-long business.

Family ties

Flash back to 1927 when McKellar parents, Vernice and Hugh McKellar, bought 10 acres of land in the small town of Ivanhoe. They had big dreams, just like their son.

“They farmed oranges and plums because that’s what was on the land,” Bob said as he laughed.

As the years went by, his parents farmed and he studied at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He majored in animal husbandry and agriculture journalism.

That is where the forward thinking mindset came from.

After college, he worked for a livestock magazine for nine years, then he formed a public relations agency, which he kept going for the next 50 years.

“In 1972, I became the prodigal son and started managing the farm with one fax machine, one telephone and three wonderful people,” Bob said.

He started managing his parent’s farm after his father died in 1972. He did it all from his home in Oregon. Now, he lives on the 182-acre farm and is always thinking of new ways to bring people to it.

“It isn’t a job to me,” said Bob, as he pointed to Brittany Marshall, his right-hand office manager. “I get to work with wonderful people at a wonderful place.”

The McKellar farms are more than just a farm. It’s an international tourist destination, a wedding venue and an education opportunity for students.

Marshall said the diversification of the operation makes everyday a different day.

McKellar Farms, Inc. is the original property with 80 acres of citrus.

McKellar Ranch Co. is an expansion. It holds 102 acres of citrus, located in the Red Banks area. Bob’s grandfather, Angus, helped the family invest in this property.

McKellar Family Farms was branded just a few years ago. It draws in in about 1,500 people each year for local and international educational tours.

Its sister company, Historic Seven Sycamores, is also located on the original grounds. The venue pulls in nearly 15,000 people each year for weddings and events.

“We are ever expanding and there is nowhere to go but forward.” Marshall said. “Our forefront is connecting people to agriculture.”

Bob’s favorite spot to be is right in the middle of the operations, right in front of The Hummingbird Cottage, which was Bob’s childhood home.

“There’s a bench right over there, I can just go there and sit. It’s quiet and I just listen to the birds,” he said, pointing to a wooden bench across the street. “I never stop thinking about the opportunities of the day.”

Future opportunities

Hardships? Farmer Bob doesn’t have any.

“We call them opportunities,” Bob said. “Every situation provides an opportunity.”

Marshall is heading one of those opportunities now –– a self-guided tour around the operation. The hope is smaller tours could walk themselves around the farm using signage, props and interactive tools.

“If you don’t go forward you’re going to go backward,” Bob said. “There’s no such thing as standing still.”

A dream of his – a 17 acre demonstration farm. A place to study a sample of every product grown in the San Joaquin Valley.

The farm has a potential partnership with Fresno State to use this demonstration farm as student projects.

At 85, Bob is sharp and keeps up with the younger generation, helping manage the company. He hopes to do this for 15 more years, he said.

“I haven’t accomplished anything by myself,” he said. “So, if we can leave an opportunity for people to learn about agriculture and continue to have meaningful weddings, farm tours and ag activities, it would make me very happy.”

 

Read the original article on the Visalia Times-Delta website.

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