Hood River Cherry Company's Kathryn Klein Talks Women in Leadership, Cherry Strategy, and More

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Mon. March 6th, 2017 - by Laura Hillen

HOOD RIVER, OR – With a unique set of challenges that come inherent both within the realms of fresh produce, and heading a woman-owned business, Hood River Cherry Company Co-Owner Kathryn Klein has vowed to take the industry by storm both personally and professionally.

Kathryn Klein, Co-Owner, Hood River Cherry CompanyAs Hood River looks to a spring of new buds, an additional 100 acres of high-elevation cherries, and flourishing opportunities, Kathryn tells me that there’s no coincidence to the success the company has seen thus far.

Infusing a passion for cherry growing, a focus on family, and maintaining her accomplishments as a successful businesswoman and owner, I took a minute to sit down with Katy to learn just what makes her tick, and what she’s looking forward to in the year ahead:

Q: What challenges are you looking to tackle in 2017?

Kathryn Klein: As the larger producers in the industry continue to grow and buyout small farms, we’re working hard to maintain our small, family-run orchard growing what we know are the best cherries on the market at a competitive price—without cutting any corners. We still pick and sort our cherries by hand—that’s almost unheard of in the cherry industry these days. The way we grow and harvest produces the incredible fruit our loyal customers have grown to expect.

Another challenge is distinguishing our small farm, hand grown, high-elevation cherries from the “big guys” on the market. We know the difference between our artisanal cherries and the mass-produced products on the market, so we work hard to make sure our customers do too.

Q: What trends do you see emerging in woman leadership in ag?

KK: The agriculture industry is losing its workforce, and we need to find ways to attract and keep more women in our ranks. One way to do this would be to provide childcare assistance so young mothers can feel valued and supported in the industry. These women will be the leaders of the future and we need to support them and their families today.

Other trends I see are shifting customer demands, uncertainty regarding climate changes and its impact on the industry and small producers being bought up by large-scale operations. Because there’s a real camaraderie among women in agriculture, I believe we can come together to support our industry and each other through the changes ahead. I’ve seen more and more women coming into agriculture and I’m excited at where that’s going to take the industry.

Q: What are some rewarding aspects of heading your own business?

KK: It’s incredibly rewarding working side-by-side with my family every day. Tackling projects with my daughter, watching my granddaughter grow day by day as she runs in and out of the office, and spending quality time with my husband doing the thing we love most: growing exceptional cherries.

Kathryn Klein (second from right) surrounded by members of her family.

Because we are a small family-owned orchard, we have the chance of getting to know and investing in our employees’ lives. Many of our workers have been with us for decades and have harvested with us year after year. After that long, they feel like family to us. We are so grateful to be able to watch their children grow up and share in special events like family birthday parties and graduations with them.

Q: What advice would you offer to women currently in the industry, or looking to join?

KK: Learn to operate a forklift and tractor. Get your hands dirty. Spend time on the loading docks getting to know your truck drivers and the world they live in. The more women understand all aspects of agriculture, the more successful we will be.

Connect with women in agriculture groups, conferences and workshops—we can all learn from each other. Sometimes being a woman in agriculture feels like an outsider. As more women join the agricultural industry this will continue to change. I feel more accepted now than 15 years ago and expect it will be even better in the future. It takes courage to persevere.

Those of us who’ve been in the business for a while have the opportunity to support other women wanting to join. Reach out and support or mentor other young women joining our industry. Give them a hand up. Believe in yourself and what you have to offer.

As Hood River prepares for another year of successful harvest, Kathryn will co-head the helm to increased production and further consumer engagement throughout the year. And with sights set on uplifting industry women to the benefit of fresh produce as a whole, I don’t see Kathryn’s name as one to soon forget.

With cherry season soon to ramp up, stay with AndNowUKnow for the latest in Hood River news and all things stonefruit.

Hood River Cherry Company