The historic home of Max and Verda Foster, founders of family-owned company Foster Farms, is a modest one. While the house and surrounding ranch feature fruit trees, a tennis court and simple white-walled buildings that now serve as administrative locations, there is one things that indicates where the third-generation billion dollar company was born: enormous silos towering in the background bearing a large insignia with a big, bright, red number: 75.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Foster Farms providing poultry products to West Coast consumers, all the while remaining family owned and operated. As a company that employs more than 12,000 people and processes roughly 700,000 chickens a day, Foster Farms has become not only a large employer of Central Valley residents but plays an integral role in the agricultural fabric for which California is known.
“It’s fitting and appropriate that we begin here and reflect how much Foster Farms has given to the area and the country,” said U.S. Representative Jim Costa in front of the Fosters’ original home at the anniversary celebration on Monday. “It’s been hard, but you’ve hung in there and showed the spirit that Max and Verda did all those years ago.”
Max and Verda Foster began Foster Farms in 1939 when they invested in the 80-acre farm near Modesto and began raising turkeys and eventually chicks. With a hatchery next to their home, Verda checked on the chicks around the clock and by 1950 the couple had purchased a feed mill to fulfill their mission of raising quality chickens. In 1959 the couple added a processing plant in Livingston where headquarters moved in 1960 and are located to this day.
“Where else can you go and borrow $1,000 and turn it into a billion dollar company? Only in America. That’s what it boils down to,” said Kirk Lippincott, manager of live production for Foster Farms.
Today, third generation family member Ron Foster serves as CEO where he continues to promote the family values on which the company was founded. Under his management the company has become the first major poultry producer to be certified by the American Humane Association and has performed significant philanthropic efforts such as donating to the University of California, Davis, California State University Fresno and California Polytechnic State University.
“I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate setting to have this celebration,” said Ron Foster at the original Foster ranch on Monday. "They did not have a business plan… what they had was a strong work ethic and commitment.
“The fact that we’re successful today is because we’ve managed to not screw that up,” he jokingly added.
A trademark of Foster Farms’ efforts has been the good rapport which the company has developed with employees, often employing family members that span multiple generations. By teaming up with local food banks, Foster Farms founded the Food 4 Thought program that allows students in Merced County to participate in educational after school programs and in turn receive groceries twice a month for their family.
According to Karen Ross, Secretary of California Department of Food and Agriculture, “90 percent of the state agriculture farms are run by families –great families—like the Foster family” which have not only contributed to California’s success as the national epicenter of agriculture, but employed and empowered thousands of the Central Valley’s residents.
While the age old debate of what came first – the chicken or the egg—still stands, according to California State Senator Tom Berryhill “It’s safe to say it’s the chicken. Foster Farms chicken.”