November 1, 2018

Danish Roots Run Deep at Arvin Farm

BACKGROUND: It was in 1927 when twin brothers Viggo and Soren Stenderup emigrated from Denmark to the United States and found their way to the farming town of Arvin in the southern San Joaquin Valley. They got their chance to literally establish new roots after the Great Depression. “They were able to buy a farm from the Bank of Italy, which became Bank of America, in 1930 following what happened in 1929,” said Kent Stenderup, speaking of his grandfather and uncle and the financial crisis that put many farms in the hands of bankers.

LINE OF SUCCESSION: The second generation of Stenderups also featured a pair of twins as Viggo and his wife, Frieda, produced Verner and Gunner Stenderup in 1935. Today the third generation is in place with Verner and Gunner’s sons, Andy and Kent Stenderup, involved in the operation. At 83, Verner is also still in the picture. “He is our special projects manager,” says Kent.

On their 2,000 acres, Andy and Kent have a clear division of work with Andy handling all tractor work and equipment and Kent in charge of irrigation and the office.

CROP ROTATION: The two founding brothers started their U.S. farming career with grapes, cotton and alfalfa…crops that would form the backbone of Stenderup Farms through the first generation and well into the second. It wasn’t until Andy (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) and Kent (Stanford) graduated from college and rejoined the family operation that the crop mix expanded.

“When I came back from Stanford, it was the classic case of the smart college kid trying to re-invent how we farmed,” Kent said. “I talked the family into planting iceberg lettuce. We disked the field. My grandfather said it was the first time ever that he received zero money on a crop.”

Today Stenderup Ag Partners, which became the official name of the company 30 years ago, grows a variety of permanent and row crops, split fairly evenly down the middle. On the permanent side of the ledger are juice grapes and almonds. The row crop side features carrots, fresh potatoes, sweet potatoes, processing tomatoes, garlic and onions.

CO-OP FRIENDLY: “We’re big believers in the co-op business model,” says Kent. “We belong to Blue Diamond for our almonds and Delano Growers Grape Products for our wine grapes. We also belong to an ag equipment co-op and an almond haulers co-op.  Even our bank—Farm Credit—is a co-op.”

The business partners are also active in the farm community as the 40-year membership in Western Growers attests. And Kent is the current vice chairman of the Almond Board. “My father and uncle served on various board. We believe in it,” Kent said.

THE 4TH GENERATION: It is too early to know whether the next generation of Stenderups will come back and run the family farm as did Kent and his cousin Andy, but at least Kent’s son John is in the business as a sales representative for C.H. Robinson. And John is certainly akin to following his dad’s footsteps, literally.

Over the last two years, John Stenderup has scaled the top two mountains in the world in Mount Everest and K2. Kent accompanied him to base camp on the Mount Everest climb and has been an emotional and financial supporter of the ambitious undertakings. After all, it was Kent who got John interested in serious hiking and climbing. “I enjoy the peace and serenity of hiking,” Kent said. “I introduced John to hiking and he took it and ran with it. You could tell early that he had the footing and was very comfortable climbing. One of the first hikes we did was Half Dome (in Yosemite).”

Kent still enjoys hiking, including going from rim to rim through the Grand Canyon and hiking Mt. Whitney, California’s tallest peak.

THE FUTURE: The Stenderups have been farming in Kern County for almost 90 years and Kent expects farming to take them quite a bit further down the road. At age 59, with a father still active at 83, Kent believes he has many years left helping to guide the operation. “I like our business model now, but it will change. It always does. Our family farming model works really well. We always confer with one another before making any major decisions. I can’t tell you what’s next, but I plan to be here. I’m still having lots of fun!”