Farmer of the Month: John Warmerdam of New Excelsior Farming

When John Warmerdam was a kid, his school bus didn’t drop him off at home—or even at the corner near his house. Instead, it took him to his family’s fruit packing shed. 

Man in cherry groves
Farmer John Warmerdam

“That’s where my parents were,” John told The FruitGuys. “All of my summers were spent around the packing shed getting into trouble and getting in the way.” 

John’s parents, Bill and Audrey Warmerdam, started Warmerdam Packing in 1965 to pack and sell cherries and plums from their orchards in Hanford, California. The business has changed quite a bit over the decades—the orchards now have their own name, New Excelsior Farming—but it’s still a family affair with John at the helm. 

The FruitGuys have added Warmerdam Packing’s fruit to our fruit delivery boxes since 2016, and on May 1 we touched base with John to talk about something that has our whole team buzzing: The start of cherry season! 

A Surprising Season for Cherries

When John talks about his fruit, he sounds a bit like an enthusiastic college professor. He could wax poetic about crop loads, cherry genetics, and the “eating experience” all day long. Still, he told us that this year’s crop surprised him. 

Verry Cherry plum orchard
A New Excelsior Farming Verry Cherry plum orchard

“Initially, it wasn’t looking that promising because we didn’t have much cold weather during the winter. We need winter chill for our trees to get a good dormant cycle, wake up, and get ready for work early in the season. But it turns out it was enough for them to wake up and set a really nice crop,” John said. 

In fact, this year’s cherries were almost too plentiful. The weather hit a sweet spot for bees, which pollinated an immense number of flowers. 

“My house overlooks the orchard, and during bloom time we had a beautiful sea of white and pink flowers to look over, and the wonderful aromas that come with that,” John said. 

To keep the cherry tree branches from getting too heavy and ensure his fruit retained the best flavor, John and his team thinned out the cherries by hand. The tactic worked, and by May 1, his team was busy packing them for distribution.

John’s Top Cherry Varieties 

Warmerdam Packing handles more than a dozen organic and conventional cherry varieties, plus Golden kiwis and Verry Cherry plums. John has his favorites—and a particular yen for the Black Pearl cherry, which is in season all of May. 

“I would put the Black Pearl up against anything that comes out of Washington in terms of eating experience for the consumer,” he said. “It’s 22–25 brix [brix is a measure of a fruit’s sugar content, and 22–25 is sweet for a red cherry], with a dark skin color, dark flesh color, and bright green stem. It’s a crunchy fruit with a strong, intense cherry aroma.”

Large bin of cherries
A bin of New Excelsior Farming’s cherries

John is also excited about this year’s crop of Arvin Glen cherries. The Arvin Glen is the offspring of the Sequoia®, a variety that New Excelsior Farming licensed from the breeders at B Q Genetics in Le Grand, California, in the early 2000s. 

“It has a high brix, good firmness, large to extra-large sizing, and is overall a very nice piece of fruit to eat,” he explained. 

Rainier and Royal Rainier cherries, which are in season from early May through early June, are also high on John’s list. He fell in love with their unique two-toned skin and sweet yellow flesh in 1996 during a visit to Auvil Fruit Company in Washington. 

Something Fresh: Verry Cherry Plums

Cherries aren’t the only thing coming up at Warmerdam this year. Mid-June signals the end of cherry season but brings Verry Cherry plums—a flavorful cross between a plum and a cherry bred by Zaiger Genetics in Modesto, California.

The Verry Cherry plum

“It looks like a plum, just a small plum, but once you bite into it you realize it’s something completely different,” John said. 

Most stone fruits taste best when they’re soft, ripe, and dripping with juice. But Verry Cherry plums ripen differently.  

“A Sweet Pixie [a variety of Verry Cherry plum] at full maturity is still a firm and crispy piece of fruit with a tremendous amount of juiciness and a really strong burst of flavor when you first bite into it,” John said. “You’ve got this lingering sort of after-flavor that comes in as you chew through it and enjoy the eating experience. It’s a flavor that kind of unwraps itself, almost like a fine wine. You take that first stiff of the bouquet, then that first initial sip when it hits your tongue, and then get the lingering flavor as you go through it. It really evolves.”

Why John Loves Farming 

Bag of Sequoia ® cherries
Sequoia ® cherries packed by Warmerdam Packing

John is adept at finding new fruit varieties and extending his growing season as long as possible. He told The FruitGuys that one of his favorite things about farming is the opportunity for innovation. 

“I love using technology to find better ways of doing what we do, develop better products, and be more productive, more efficient, and easier on the environment with less of a footprint,” he said. 

The people John works with—including his family, his employees, his customers, and other cherry growers from around the world—also keep him going. Some of Warmerdam Packing’s employees have been with the company for more than forty years. They watched John grow up and graduate from riding on the back of their tractors to running the company. He has steered the family business through a lot of changes in the last two decades. 

The Evolution of a Family Farm: Warmerdam Packing, New Excelsior Farming, and The Flavor Tree Fruit Company

John joined Warmerdam Packing full-time in 1998 after studying crop science and management at the University of California, Davis. He contributed a new level of business savvy to the packing house and made a few changes to keep it growing and thriving. In the mid-2000s, he brought on an investor (Fiera Comox) and split Warmerdam Packing into three parts. 

  • New Excelsior Farming The Warmerdam family orchards (including John and his wife Tara’s 110-acre orchard) which grow delicious California fruit off Excelsior Avenue
  • Warmerdam Packing – The packing facility, which packs fruit from New Excelsior Farming and forty other growers in the San Joaquin Valley
  • The Flavor Tree Fruit Company – The company that markets all of the fruit packed at Warmerdam Packing 
Infographic showing "The Journey of a Cherry: From John's Orchard to Your Office" Arrows lead from multiple orchards, including John's, to Warmerdam Packing, to The Flavor Tree Fruit Company, to The FruitGuys, to You
John’s cherries travel from his orchard, New Excelsior Farming, to Warmerdam Packing. Then, they’re marketed by The Flavor Tree Fruit Company, purchased by The FruitGuys, and sold to offices nationwide.

John is the CEO of both New Excelsior Farming and Warmerdam Packing. Support from Fiera Comox helped him buy new packing equipment, add acreage to its orchards, and bring in new varieties of fruit. 

Two boxes of Sequoia® cherries
Sequoia ® cherries packed by Warmerdam Packing

“We’re still family-owned and run, but the reality is that agriculture is an extremely capital-intensive business that requires partners like them to keep the business competitive,” John said. 

The FruitGuys connected with John through The Flavor Tree Fruit Company in 2016, and we’ve been buying Warmerdam Packing’s cherries, Verry Cherry plums, and Golden kiwis ever since! They add an extra pop of bright color and flavor to our office fruit delivery boxes and school deliveries in the spring and summer. 

If you’d like to try The Flavor Tree Fruit Company’s produce, reach out to us in May or June while stone fruit season is still going strong! 

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