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16 • The Produce News • August 4, 2014 ‘Onions are in my blood,’ Murakami’s Grant Kitamura says of his place in the industry B Y K ATHLEEN T HOMAS G ASPAR ONTARIO, OR — For 34 years Grant Kitamura, general manager of Murakami Produce in Ontario, OR, has been an onion packer and shipper, but like many others in the Idaho- Eastern Oregon onion indus- try, his ties to regions farming community go back genera- tions. “I am currently in the onion shipping business because I grew up on a local farm where my family raised onions along with other row crops here in the Treasure Valley,” Kitamura said. Of his involvement with Murakami Produce, he added, “Sig Murakami [the company’s late founder, who started the operation n 1969] offered me an opportunity to join him in 1980.” That’s the recent history, but the family’s farming history started in the early decades of the 20th century. Kitamura continued, “My immigrant paternal grandfa- ther began farming in the Yaki- ma Valley of Washington in about 1920. He and his family raised many crops, including onions.” He explained the produce was grown, harvested and farm-packed by the family, and “then they hauled it to Seattle to the Pike Farmers’ Market where it was sold.” Keep in mind the Yakima Valley is on the eastern side of the Cascade Range, and Seattle across the mountains to the west — still a climb even with interstate con- venience. The next generation contin- ued the tradition of the family farm, and Kitamura said, “My father grew onions all through his farming career, and my brothers have been raising Shown are the partners of Murakami Produce Co. LLC, head- quartered in Ontario, OR. (Photo by Kathleen Thomas Gaspar) onions since our father’s retire- ment. Today my brothers are members of Murakami Grow- ers LLC, our new partners. “So I guess onions are in my blood — and hopefully they will help lower my blood pres- sure,” Kitamura said. One of the largest onion shippers in the region, Muraka- mi entered a partnership with Potandon Produce several years ago, and sales are con- ducted both at the Ontario office and the Potandon office in Idaho Falls. In Ontario, onions are shipped from a facility that consists of 250,000 square feet of insulated on-site storage for 75,000 bins. Each bin has capacity for 1,500 pounds of field-run onions, and a new Volm consumer packaging machine added in 2014 allows Murakami to offer 40-pound RPC as well as 25- and 50-pound boxes. Sales Manager and partner Chris Woo said the bagger is used primarily for three-pound retail consumer bags. “The capacity for three pound bags is 75-80 per minuted,” Woo said of the new machine. “Retail demand has grown steadily for MPC over the past decade, Kitamura said. “I believe that our consumers prefer the flavor and quality of our Spanish Sweet hybrid onions over other varieties from other regions. And our Spanish onions have always been the favorite of foodservice because of their flavor and larg- er sizes; so we continue to have success in the foodservice sec- tor as it evolves.” Murakami adheres to strin- gent food safety protocol and is a member of Certified Onions Inc., which tests all the shipper’s product for pesticide residual. While onion shipper is the hat he wears professionally, Grant Kitamura is also an onion consumer who appreci- ates the flavor and health ben- efits that go with his product. “I eat onions daily in one form or another,” he said. “For instance, I always use raw onions on sandwiches, burgers and salads. When cooking, I use onions baked, grilled, sauteed, etc. One cannot have a decent stir-fry dish, soup, stew, roast or steak without onions.” He went on to say, “I enjoy the flavor, texture and appear- ance of onions on almost every main dish and salad that I eat.” That appreciation came early. “I learned to appreciate the flavor of onions as a child and started eating onion sand- wiches (two slices of bread, Murakami Produce Sales Manager Chris Woo is shown with the newest piece of high-tech equipment, a Volm packaging machine capable of putting out 75-80 three-pound consumer bags per minute. The new bagger is one of three in use at Murakami, Woo said. (Photo by Kathleen Thomas Gaspar) mayonnaise, slab of raw onion) at about age 10. It was later that I learned later onions are beneficial to one’s health.” Noting elevated blood pres- sure and the beneficial proper- ties of onions in treating that condition, Kitamura said, “I probably consume 100 pounds Classic comfort foods get a new USA Onion twist White USA Onion and Sweet Potato Breakfast Hash with Chorizo. UPDATES of onions per year.” The apple doesn’t fall far from the onion tree: “All three of my children like them as well,” Kitamura said. “It is gratifying to know that we are producing and market- ing a product that is healthy as well as good-tasting,” he said.