A sweet trade: A former banker is now farming sweet onions in Walla Walla

WALLA WALLA, WA - After many years in the banking business, a local farmer decided to switch careers because he didn't have the satisfaction he once had at the beginning of his career.

"I had a premonition," said Fernando Enriquez Jr. "My premonition was my grandmother, she said there was more to life and that I needed to reconnect with my roots and not to be afraid to make that leap."

After twelve years in the banking business, that premonition made him trade his tie and polished shoes for boots and a hat.

"I was scared to do it but I knew it had to be done," he admitted. "I wanted to, it was like an intuition and something telling me, 'you are going to be fine, go back to your roots.'"

And now, he's taking the lead role: he oversees the fields, finances and studies the science behind growing and planting crops.

"It's something that I'm proud of...you can accomplish anything that you set your mind to, no matter color, race, gender, or whatever," Enriquez Jr. said.

Enriquez Jr. has more than 100 acres in Walla Walla. His farm, Enriquez Farms, produces sweet onions and red onions.

"I am very proud that he has returned to agriculture," said Enriquez Jr.'s father, Fernando Enriquez Sr., "because his decision is to be a farmer and because he sees that this business will give him a future."

The Enriquez family has deep roots in agriculture, and it all started in Mexico. Grandpa Enriquez was a farmer in Oaxaca, then his dad migrated to the United States working in the fields, then became a labor contractor. But in 1986, he bought two acres of land, and that's where Enriquez Farms was born.

"The business so far is going well," Enriquez Jr. said. "My first year I went from 15 acres to now going into my fourth year with a hundred."

But as independent growers, some of the challenges they face is labor shortage.

"The biggest challenges we face at this point is, once we are in harvest and once these onions are being sold, it gets really competitive with the pricing and trying to move your product."

Enriquez Farms is the second largest producer in the valley, and although he has a business degree and completed two years of a plant soil science program, he continues to educate himself by going to seminars because there is always something new to learn about the industry.

And as for the future, he's already planning for what is going to be the next step.

"We want to be vertically integrated, meaning that we can be grower, packer, and shipper. That way I have more of an insight and knowledge and information on how my product is being packed and how its being moved," Enriquez Jr. said.

Recommended for you