In 1984 the family went on a mission
trip to an orphanage in Mexico.
“At this point in the story I like to say that
at that time the labor market changed from
white seasonal workers to young
male Latinos,” Cheryl
Vista Hermosa (above), which
means “beautiful view,” is a
community of affordable homes
built for the Broetjes’ employees.
The profits from the cherry
harvest are donated to charities.
Broetje says. “We went down [to Mexico] to
see if we could understand what was going
on. What we saw was that these people were
economic refugees. When we returned it
changed how we looked at employees and
what our role was as employer.”
“For me [the trip] was a wake-up call,”
says Broetje. “We were building more and
more stuff. It made me realize that the dream
was a vision for my life.”
The first problem they set out to address
was how to create sustainable work. Ralph
began planting different varieties of apples—
such as Fuji and Gala—which resulted in
year-round work for his employees.
The next problem presented itself in
1987, when the Broetjes made the move to
vertical integration by building a warehouse
and packing line. The new building saved
them the 100-mile drive to a packing facility,
but it brought to light a new problem. The
warehouse staff comprised mostly women,
and the Broetjes learned that many of their
employees were locking their children inside
their homes all day or keeping older children
out of school to watch their siblings.
So, the Broetjes built an affordable daycare.
Today the daycare has 23 employees and has
the capacity to take care of 77 children, from
infants to 4-year-olds. Most of the Broetjes’
nine grandchildren have spent their days there
while their parents and grandparents worked a
few hundred feet away in the main office.
Next, the Broetjes knew they needed to
address the poor housing conditions their
employees faced. “We learned that sustainable jobs, daycare and affordable housing
were the keys to the workers showing up,”
says Cheryl. “Any one of those issues could
run them out.”
After hearing from employees who
lived in cars, garages and other cramped
quarters, more often than not paying
bloated rents, the Broetjes invested
$5 million of their own money to
provide affordable housing.
Vista Hermosa, a community of 121
houses, opened in 1990. The residents named
the community, which means “beautiful view.”
Just a few minutes’ walk from the office and
warehouse, the community is made up of
mostly three- to four-bedroom homes. Rent,
which has been raised only twice since the
houses were built, costs around $485 for a
four-bedroom home. In addition to the
houses, residents have access to an elementary
school, public library branch, chapel, laundry
facility and convenience store.
The Broetjes have kept on top of the issue
by creating housing for seasonal workers and
funding a community in nearby Pasco,
Washington, that’s designed to help their
employees become homeowners.
“The housing piece is the one that’s had
the most influence,” says Broetje. “It’s an
investment, so it has to be something you
One of the problems they have yet to
solve is the ongoing issue of immigration.
While the company follows all of the obligations that Social Security and the Internal
Revenue Service place on any employer, they
see beyond the paperwork. Their goal under
comprehensive immigration reform is “for
immigrants to be granted the legal process in
order to secure short-term employment in
this country, as well as a path of opportunity
available for those who qualify and choose to
go through the process of permanent citizenship,” says Cheryl Broetje.
Broetje, trim and gray-haired, is soft-spoken and often defers to his wife with a point
of a finger before answering a question. Cheryl,
in turn, points back at him, encouraging him
to speak. She offers a suggestion to understanding her quiet and unassuming husband: “Just
remember, Ralph’s into apples and kids.”
Which leads to the realization of the second part of his dream. Not only have Broetje
Orchards’ charitable donations aided numerous people in India—and throughout the
world—but the couple have adopted six kids
from that country, bringing their total number of children to nine, ages 23 to 41.
Much the way the Broetjes have encouraged employees to explore their strengths,
they have given their children the freedom to
see where they best fit in with the business.
Suzanne Broetje, who heads the family’s
charitable-giving foundation (see next
page), says her parents have created a solid
management team that will one day run the
business. She explains, “My parents always
stressed that the orchard is their dream. ‘We
don’t want to push it on you.’ ”
Six of the Broetje children—three boys
and three girls—perform a variety of functions, doing everything from working in the
orchards, warehouse and elementary school
to processing payroll.
As for day-to-day operations, Cheryl has
an office at their first nonprofit endeavor, the
Center for Sharing (
in Pasco, where people are encouraged to
explore God’s call in their lives.
Ralph meets daily with crew leaders at 5: 15
in the morning. His role is more teacher than
farmer these days as he shares what he knows
about planting, grafting and harvesting.
“I struggled to get through high school.
It’s not like I have any right being in management or business,” says Ralph, who adds
that he relied on shop and agriculture classes
to get by. “But God had a plan; otherwise it
wouldn’t have happened.” C