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Western Fresh expands into vegetables

Western Fresh Marketing has always been a family affair with President George Kragie handling the farming and his wife, Susan Bidvia-Kragie working the phones and heavily involved in sales. In addition, George’s son and daughter-in-law, Chris and Misty Kragie, work for the company in different capacities at the headquarters in Madera, CA.

Fresh-Whole--Cut-Calimyrna---Mission-FigsFresh whole and cut Calimyrna and Mission figs from Western Fresh. Photos courtesy of Western Fresh.And as of Jan. 1, Mark Kragie, George’s brother, has joined the operation and established a vegetable deal for the firm, also in Madera. Mark told The Produce News that he got into the fresh vegetable industry in 1982 after he graduated from college in Tennessee and his brother set him up with an interview with a Salinas, CA, vegetable broker. He has spent the past 35 years representing several different row crops in both the Salinas and Santa Maria valleys and working for several companies along the way. “I knew nothing about sales but I was hired and two weeks later I was in the Salinas Valley selling vegetables,” he recalled. Recently, he has been heavily involved in strawberry sales as well.

George Kragie said that the addition of Mark gives the company an added product line and it also helps expose some of Mark’s longtime customers to figs, kiwifruit and other crops that Western Fresh grows and sells. George indicated that the expansion will be a win-win.

For his part, Mark Kragie said it’s a good opportunity to move from the coastal valleys to the central valley of California and expand his own customer list. He is currently brokering vegetables and strawberries but also is looking for some smaller deals to market as he has done for more than three decades.

In the meantime, the Kragies are following the same path they have for quite a while, which means George and Susan recently packed up their truck and headed to Michigan for the summer. They own a ranch in Michigan on which they grow various crops.

They typically spend the winter in California and the summer in the upper Midwest.   On this particular day in early May, they weren’t necessarily rethinking their tradition, but possibly the current weather gave them pause. On May 2, California was experiencing its first big heat wave of the year with temperatures in San Francisco rising to the very rare air of the mid-80s. At the same time, Western Fresh’s office in Michigan was suffering through a day when the high temperature was only expected to reach 38 degrees.