VALE – Jerry Baker isn’t slowing down.
He could and no one would begrudge the decision. At 84, Baker is at a place in life when most are comfortably settled into retirement.
Instead, he is still deeply involved in his firm Baker & Murakami Produce Co., where he continues to sell onions in a career that began more than five decades ago.
Well known in the local onion industry, Baker achieved another milestone in February when he was inducted into the Idaho-Malheur County Onion Growers Hall of Fame.
“It was great, after you work your whole life, to get recognized,” said Baker.
Baker, though, couldn’t accept the honor in person because he was ill with Covid.
Born in Oregon City and raised on a dairy farm near Vale, Baker started in the onion business more than 50 years ago. He led DeBruyn Produce for more than 20 years and eventually bought the firm and renamed it Baker Packing. Now he is co-owner along with Grant Kitamura of Baker & Murakami Produce Co.
“Grant and I were major competitors. For quite a while I was the largest packer in the area then Grant caught up with me and we were neck-and-neck for quite a few years,” said Baker.
The two merged their businesses six years ago, said Baker.
“I really admire his entrepreneurial spirit. He’s a hard worker and he’s focused. These guys are timeless and hard to find. They are not 8-to-5 guys. He’s a good partner,” said Kitamura.
Baker, a 1957 Vale High School graduate, said he began in the onion business in the field, shucking burlap onion sacks, worked at Ore-Ida in Ontario before becoming a produce inspector for the state Department of Agriculture.
Baker said the best part of the onion business is its unpredictably.
“It is a challenge all the time. The prices, the weather, there is nothing dull about it,” he said.
He said another attribute to the onion packing business is developing relationships with customers and putting out a good product and “getting them there on time.”
Some things have changed, though.
“People’s work ethic. They don’t think they need to come to work on time,” said Baker.
Baker is a past president of the Idaho-Oregon Fruit and Vegetable Association and has served on the Oregon Inspection Advisory Board for more than 50 years and is a member of the Vale Water Board.
Yet Baker’s life isn’t just focused on his onion business. For nearly 20 years Baker has also raised and sold black Angus registered bulls at his ranch outside of Vale.
About the only thing that may slow Baker down is a back surgery he was scheduled to undergo last week.
Even then, though, he said once he is able, he will probably find his way into Ontario and back to his office.
“I’ll be sneaking into work. I won’t have to do any physical work so I can set on my rear end in a swivel chair and talk on the phone,” said Baker.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].
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