Ralph and Cheryl grow about 6,600 acres of apple trees and 200 acres of cherries. Theirs is one of the largest family-owned apple orchards in the world. The pack an average of 24,000 boxes of apples per day-enough to fill 25-30 semi-trucks. Collectively their orchards generate about $120 million in gross sales. But the money they make is not what is most significant-it’s what they give away. Each year about 50-75% of the orchard’s profits are donated to the family’s Vista Hermosa Foundation and to related ministries. The foundation invests an average of $5-7 million in grants in local and international partners yearly.
An excerpt about the Broetje’s from the book “My Business, My Mission” by Doug Seebeck and Timothy Stoner:
The Broetje Way
Broetje Orchards employs around 1,100 people, but during harvest time this number swells by another thousand. Because many of their employees are migrant workers, the Broetjes were challenged to learn about the roots of systemic poverty and how to address the needs of the poor.
In 1986 the Broetjes opened the Center for Sharing, which promotes hope by encouraging marginalized people to begin dreaming dreams for their future. The center provides an environment in which they can explore God’s call on their lives and consider, within a small group context, how to apply that call in ways that heal, reconcile, and free others for service. Out of these groups at least a score of local and international ministries have either been birthed or are currently being served.
The Broetjes also developed a residential community named Vista Hermosa (“Beautiful View”).
It includes comfortable and affordable rental dwellings for 126 members of their orchard “family.” The Orchard View Market provides the residents of Vista Hermosa with basic-need commodities, and some of the workers’ older children have the opportunity to work at the market and learn business skills.
The Vista Hermosa community also offers ESL and GED courses along with computer learning, summer camps, youth programs, parenting training, athletics, counseling services, women’s support groups, and WIC programs. To provide better care for their employees’ children, the Broetjes built a preschool and an elementary school. A scholarship program provides college tuition for their employees’ children.
The Cherry Committees
Because Ralph and Cheryl are also committed to developing the leadership gifts of their employees, they created an opportunity for employees to participate in funding projects. The Broetje Orchards Cherry Committees are managed and directed entirely by Broetje employees.
The committees’ main funding source developed almost by accident. Hidden among the hundreds of thousands of apple trees is a 50-acre parcel devoted to cherries. In 1990, after seven years of losses on that parcel, Ralph had lost hope that it would ever become profitable. He decided to cut the cherry trees down and replace them with apples. But one day, while reading the gospels, he was forced to reconsider.
In the book of John there is an unusual parable about the owner of a vineyard with a dilemma just like Ralph’s. In the midst of his productive orchard was a lone fig tree that had not borne fruit for three years. The owner’s patience was finally exhausted. So, arms waving in the air, he barked out orders to cut the tree down. In the story, a field worker advocates on behalf of the miserable fig tree, begging the owner to give it one more chance. The owner responds, “If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then chop it to the ground” (John 13:9). The story leaves us hanging. We are not told whether the fig tree got its lifetime reprieve, but the implication is that it did.
As far as Ralph was concerned, he had received direct instructions: he was to give the recalcitrant cherries one more year. If they produced well, the proceeds— all of them—were to be given away. The beneficiary Ralph and Cheryl selected was Pimpollo, the neediest orphanage in Mexico. It was little more than a decrepit warehouse filled with 100 severely disabled and maimed orphans.
Several months after conveying this decision to Padre Pancho, the priest who directed the orphanage, the Broetjes received a letter from him. It read, “Ever since the children in our home heard about what you planned to do with the proceeds, they have been praying for the orchard. But they have no idea what a cherry is. Could you please send them pictures so that they can see what they are praying for?”
The Broetjes obliged, and pictures of the small red fruit were posted on the orphanage wall. The orphans prayed all through the fall and winter, and kept up through the harvest in July.
God heard the prayers of those little ones. In late October of 1991, the orphans at Pimpollo were informed that a draft in the amount of $350,000 had been sent to them from the profits of a fruit they had never seen or tasted. The Broetjes’ 50-acre parcel of cherries had yielded the greatest per-acre profit in their orchards’ entire history.
That’s how the Cherry Committees project got its start. Recently, the Committees donated almost $400,000 to World Vision’s work in Africa, and last year their total distributions topped $900,000. In the past 17 years the once-unproductive acreage has seen bumper crops in all but two seasons.
Cheryl Broetje and her husband Ralph founded, own and operate Broetje Orchards. Their label states: “First Fruits of Washington…a quality fruit company bearing fruit, fruit that will last.” Ralph and Cheryl believe that their apple farm is a calling, a business/ministry that God has raised up and wants to work through in order to serve the common good, providing jobs at home while generating profits to invest in place-based, community development both locally and internationally. Cheryl will be speaking, with Broetje Orchards employee, Laura Perez, at the Global Agriculture Summit 2016. They will share the story of how the Broetje family built a flourishing orchard and immigrant community in Washington that now touches lives around the world, by building on the principles of servant leadership.
The Global Agriculture Summit on March 3-4, 2016 is a faith-driven dialogue on agriculture that is designed to create connections and relationships locally and globally that lead to coordinated, market-based, community-building actions. Register today and plan to attend!