Jim Arkfeld: Orchids, a hidden treasure

October 25, 2013 

When one thinks of agricultural products grown in the Central Valley, some of the usual crops of cotton, tomatoes, almonds, sweet potatoes and grapes quickly come to mind. Add one more to your list: orchids.

Just a few miles east of Los Banos, there is a large, commercial greenhouse growing what many consider to be the world's most delicate, sensuous, beautiful flowers. The Orchid Barn is the only such producer in the entire Central Valley. All other major orchid growers in California are located in micro-climates near the coast which are more hospitable for the growing of the delicate flowers.

Orchid Barn owner, Taebin Jung originally grew orchids in his native country of Korea. The competition for growing this product was intense there and after fifteen years of production, he decided to take a chance and look for opportunity in the United States.

In 1999, Jung came to America. He first looked for land to begin his operation in the Los Angeles area. Jung quickly became discouraged regarding the price of land in that area. Next, he widened his search to other parts of California including the San Francisco Bay area and came to the same conclusion: land was simply too expensive. He finally made the decision to grow orchids in the Central Valley. Some people that he knew were skeptical about his chances of succeeding with this venture in the more extreme climate of the Central Valley. As time would tell, the naysayers were wrong.

Jung began growing orchids on a very small scale. The hot, dry climate of the Central Valley during the summers followed by the relatively cold - sometimes freezing- temperatures in the winter, provided Jung a huge challenge. Orchids are best grown from small seedlings imported from Japan. They require a carefully controlled growing environment of temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees along with carefully regulated humidity and light. These necessities of successful orchid growing are not easy to maintain in the Central Valley.

During the first two years of his business, Jung tried a variety of techniques to provide the needed growing conditions. With lots of trial and error, he gradually found success. It required lots of perseverance and hard work but little by little, he was able to grow orchids on a commercial scale. Over the ensuing years, his business grew.

None of this would have been possible without the support and encouragement provided by his family. His wife along with his son, Boram, who helps manage the company, have been instrumental in the success of the business. It has been a joint effort by this family.

The company started in one greenhouse and over the years expanded to five greenhouses. Their output started with a very small number of flowers in the early days and has grown to over a million orchids a year. From just a few employees in the beginning, the company has grown rapidly and requires approximately forty workers during peak times of the growing season. Many of his employees have worked for the company for many years and have developed the skills to help make the venture a success.

The company supplies wholesalers and retailers alike. Some of their corporate customers include Trader Joes and Whole Foods in the Bay Area. They also ship to businesses in a number of states including some on the East Coast. In addition, the growers operate an on-site retail sales outlet for customers driving along Highway 152, with another outlet in Fresno. Many of their regular customers are making the drive between the Bay Area and Fresno. Stopping at this flower oasis, which provides a touch of rain forest, makes for a very pleasant diversion.

All of this goes to goes to show that this country provides great opportunity for success. Sometimes a person has to look for a chance to succeed in seemingly unlikely places. Taebin Jung is one more example of someone who came to this great country of ours looking for opportunity. Through a great deal of insight, hard work, and perseverance, he and his family have found a great deal of success right here in the Central Valley of California. Along with his success, he helps spread the beauty of nature far and wide. Now that makes a great combination.

Jim Arkfeld

Los Banos

jarkfeld@inreach.com

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