Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up on a dirt farm in Southern Idaho where I was provided lots of opportunities to develop character. Reading has always been something that I have enjoyed but with a family and a cannery there is much less time for that now.
How’d you get into the canning business?
In 2005, Jenny and I were looking to have our own business. We had looked at several farms but could not figure out how to make it work. That Fall my Aunt and Uncle learned about the excellent fruit at Muirhead Canning from friends, ordered some fruit, met the Barrett’s (the previous owners), and found out the cannery was for sale. The rest is history, with the Loughmiller family getting into the canning business starting in 2006.
Is it true YOU, the owner of the company, personally deliver the fruit to customer’s doorsteps in the autumn?
Not completely, I will usually deliver about half of the orders with the other half being delivered by another employee of the cannery. I do need some time to map out loads, solve problems at the cannery, and most importantly see my family. Deliveries are a lot of work and it is great to have good employees to share the load with.
Tell us a funny story about when you were out delivering fruit to someone?
There are many because you’re interacting with people, and we are all a lot of fun.
One of my favorites, though is from 2007, the first year we had started home delivery back up. I was in Eastern Oregon and it was late; about 10:00pm. I had delivered up to Joseph, OR and was working my way down the hill back to LaGrande. The forecast was for snow and I didn’t want to get stuck on the mountain and so kept going until I was at my last stop. I knocked on the door but was not able to get the attention of the homeowners so I just started to unload the order at the garage with the thought that I could knock again when it was unloaded.
Well, you can bet I stopped moving immediately and said, “Don’t shoot, I am delivering your fruit from Muirhead Canning.” (I was just sure they would be upset if I got blood on their canned fruit.)
After the yelling was over, I learned that the homeowners had gone to bed. When they heard the delivery truck, looked out the window and saw a truck backed up to their garage, they made the natural assumption that someone was emptying the contents of their garage. After figuring out who I was, the owner came downstairs to open the garage and we talked about how I could do things a little differently in the future. In subsequent years we started our deliveries earlier and our schedule now allows for a reasonable amount of time per delivery trip.
Where do you see yourself and the cannery in 5 years?
There is a natural progression to life and that is the same here at the cannery. I think that in five years we will still be here but more so, our new fruit spreads will be maturing as a product and really starting to get a following, fruit in glass jars will be a larger share of our business as we are contacted by more stores looking for a premium local product that they can’t find anywhere else, and the custom canning side of the business will grow as more orchardists and fruit stands learn about our business.
Are you still doing the same things or have you got some upgrades in the works?
I am sure that we will have some more new products out in the next five years, it will be exciting to see what those end up being. We are open to new ideas and are sure that they will come.
Can we have some hints about what you are thinking?
I am thinking about life and how quickly it changes and passes, this is great business to be a part of because you meet so many different people with different experiences. I love meeting customers who were buying fruit back when Sam Muirhead owned the cannery; you really feel that this business is bigger than any one person. I have also been thinking about education and what it means to be well educated. This is a responsibility each of us must own, without blaming others if we lack that education. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
I have also been thinking about what it means to produce good food. I think there needs to be some balance reintroduced into how we process and care for the food we’re creating for ourselves. Cleanliness is important, but adding products that aren’t of nature should be questioned and long term outcomes really considered before we allow it into our food stream. Good food involves tradition, ripe fruit, and a love for food.
As I look around much of the food industry today it is all about efficiency, regulations, third party audits, and shows an immense discord with nature. To me, this is all a symptom of the disconnect between people and what they are eating. I am optimistic about the future, though, as I meet people who do care and are striving to change how they eat. The consumer is still the emperor, their demands will be met.
Who is your inspiration and why?
My father has been my inspiration for a long time. It’s not that he’s perfect, but because he is a man in the best sense of the word. I have learned from his successes and I have learned from his mistakes. He has done well with his family and is always learning, experimenting, and doing something different. Through him, I was able to travel overseas for work shortly after finishing college. This only lasted a few years but was a wonderful chance to see the world as someone working and doing not just observing.
I am also inspired by Joseph Smith, he was a boy with little formal training who became a man with a great knowledge of God and the world around him. He also was not perfect, but he was trying to do what was right. He never quit and he was an inspiration to thousands in his day and millions in the years since he was martyred at the age of 44.
Anything else you would like to tell us?
Thank you very much for your support of this little cannery that is the last of its kind. It is a pleasure to be able to work here, to see those hot cans flowing out of this wonderful home canning process. What makes this process work is the good people here who care about what they are doing. Without them, Muirhead Canning would be nothing.