Julie Hollars grew up on a farm in Vallecito, CA that was started by her great-grandparents way back in 1867 and now she works the same soil they did more than 150 years ago. As a fifth-generation farmer who learned early on the importance of hard work and family while growing up, Hollars worked with Agra Tech in Pittsburg, CA recently to improve her farm and enhance its productivity.
Julie is celebrating her 10th year running the farm after a lengthy career in the military. She enlisted in the Navy in 1988, and began a career in aviation, working all over the world as an Aviation Machinist Mate, 3rd Class Petty Officer before becoming a Chief Petty Officer in 2004. Julie retired in 2008 with a service-connected disability and decided to return to the family farm to raise her daughter while continuing the family farming business.
Farbotnik Farm grows primarily fruit and nut trees including peaches, pears, plums, pomegranates, persimmons, cherries, walnuts, almonds, pecans, apples, Olalla berries, mission figs and Vallecito Wax peppers. The farm provides products to local supermarkets and farmers markets in the summer months and also supplies fresh fruit, jams and jellies to two local grocery stores and one organic market.
In 2016, Julie re-introduced herself to Jim Bergantz from Agra Tech while attending the World Ag Show in Tulare CA. "Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the farm equipment and flocks of people, I finally ran into a familiar face from home," she said. "It had been over 28 years since I had seen Jim Bergantz who happened to be the sales engineer for Agra Tech. The short conversation that Jim and I had on a very hot day would later become the beginning of many possibilities for our family's farm."
After attending the World Ag Show, Julie was inspired to take the next step and reach out to the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), that offers financial and technical assistance to help agricultural producers, then the next phone call was to Agra Tech. " I realized that by working with the NRCS and Agra Tech, our little 13-acre farm now had the ability to finally grow," she said. " There were two issues on the farm that we addressed with NRCS--sun and bird damage to our very sensitive Olallie berry crop, and expanding our growing season for the high demand of our Vallecito Wax peppers. My goal during the whole process was to better our farm while not investing more than what I could afford and Jim Bergantz at ATI was able to gently “push” me in the right direction."
After a few months working with NRCS and Agra Tech , two possible solutions became apparent, Julie said. "We decided to use ATI's shade tunnels for the berries and their North Slope greenhouse for the peppers. I remember asking Jim Bergantz how difficult the installation of the greenhouse would be and he calmly told me he was pretty confident that we could do it ourselves."
Months later when the truck arrived with all of the parts from Agra Tech, Julie admittedly became a little overwhelmed initially. "I remember telling myself that this is a whole lot of metal," Julie said. "I had my neighbor and two other relatives assist in offloading the 7,600 lbs. by hand in the upper orchard of our farm. The beautiful thing with Agra Tech is that they labeled and numbered everything, which was a lifesaver!"
The installation wasn't without its obstacles, Julie said. "Our farm was completely dredged during the Gold Rush. The drainage is excellent for trees, but driving fence posts into the ground is pure agony! Our first hurdle was driving in the columns, but we got it done. They recommended using four people to do the construction of the North Sleep greenhouse, but we did it for two people and a 15-ft. ladder."
Once the berries was close to ripening, Julie installed the shade covering and it works well. "It was so much easier than we thought it would be," she said. "Not only do they prevent the berries from scorching in the excessive summer heat, but the local starlings could not figure out how to get into the tunnels which was nice. If the berries get too hot, they caramelize and are difficult to pick."
Now that her shade tunnel and greenhouse from Agra Tech have become an integral part of the production at Farbotnik Farm, Hollars is anticipating a fruitful future. "Working with Agra Tech made this entire experience exciting and easy," she said. "If I had any questions (which I did) I was able to shoot an e-mail or phone call to them and get an answer quickly. They have a network of people ready to help in any way at Agra Tech and I tapped into it again and again. They also have contacts throughout the farming industry. Now, we are set up for ongoing success and Agra Tech is a big part of it."
#National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
This greenhouse is only the beginning of an ongoing relationship with ATI and AgCon that could last for many years. "The marketplace for greenhouses is really taking off, so the game plan is for us to work more with ATI on additional structures after we complete this one," Sawyer said. "We want to pursue this as much as we possibly can, because this technology is becoming so sophisticated and it's only going to grow from there. Before I was working here, I was building clean rooms for 25 years for electronic and pharmaceutical companies, and many of their synergies are very similar. When you take things such as air changes and temperature envelopes into account, both industries are very precise and the end results are indicative of that."
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