by Heather Burson
The phrase ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’ is one that is used to describe someone who’s always there whenever needed. Someone who goes the extra mile and genuinely cares about being there for others. In Oregon’s vegetable processing industry, the equivalent is a person who dedicates their career to helping Oregon’s vegetable growers achieve success. Putting in the time to do whatever they can to boost sales and move product locally and around the world. That person is Chuck Palmquist. Today, Palmquist is vice president of sales and services at NORPAC. It is the culmination of a 42-year journey, the seeds of which were planted long before this.
In fact, Palmquist’s career happens to be the continuation of a very familiar subject. “I have always been around farmers and farming,” Palmquist says. Palmquist grew up on a small farm near Mt. Angel, where his dad grew hops, grain and boysenberries, among other things. From an early age he was either helping out on the farm or helping pick crops like green beans and strawberries. Later on, Palmquist attended Oregon State University where this experience helped lead him towards graduation with a degree in food science and technology.
He went on from there to land his first job at Stayton Canning Company in 1973 as a quality assurance supervisor. This job involved “being on a production shift, making sure that everything we did met all our requirements in terms of food safety and quality,” says Palmquist. Palmquist spent four years at Stayton Canning Company, then pursued a series of other jobs culminating in his return to Stayton Canning Company in 1983 as a production shift supervisor. Three years after his return, the consortium of seven companies that made up North Pacific Canners and Packers had dwindled down, leaving Stayton Canning Company as the only one left. Seizing an opportunity, they took the North Pacific Canners and Packers name as their own and changed it to the acronym NORPAC.
At this time, Palmquist found himself moving on through a series of other job titles at NORPAC, starting with repack scheduling manager. Special projects manager was next, and it was during this time that NORPAC’s Hermiston plant was built. Palmquist became its engineering manager. Then, in 1996, NORPAC had acquired Stone Mill Foods and he became its general manager for two years. When Stone Mill Foods sold, Palmquist came back as the manager of NORPAC’s packing facility.
“This was probably my favorite,” Palmquist says, “the day-to-day seeing something produced, there’s a lot of satisfaction in that.”
He remained in this position until the president of NORPAC’s sales agency, located in Lake Oswego, retired in 2007. When this happened, Palmquist became general manager of NORPAC’s sales agency office. An office NORPAC held until everything was consolidated to its current location in 2014. Palmquist transitioned to vice president of sales and services in 2009, and has remained in this position ever since. It’s one he’s proud to serve in as “part of this organization, owned by 240 family farmers.” Yet also, a role he remains humble about. “Our mission in life is to give them (farmers) access to the marketplace and we remember that every day. My role is to be part of that whole organization and keep that going,” Palmquist says. Others, like NORPAC grower Molly McCargar of Pearmine Farms, would say Palmquist has done way more than that.
“Chuck is a hardworking guy who has a big role in the outcome of the crops we grow,” says McCargar, “Providing market access for our vegetables is what he does, and if he wasn’t doing it, then, well let’s just say, I’d probably have a lot of inventory.”
McCargar first met Palmquist about 10 years ago at a NORPAC annual meeting, and they continued to cross paths. Located close to NORPAC, Pearmine Farms became a frequent stop on tours for current and potential buyers of NORPAC products. An occurrence that led McCargar to ask Palmquist to accompany her on an Adopt a Farmer classroom visit in 2011. Not long after, he joined McCargar on ABC’s Board of Directors where he has remained to this day.
Cindy Cook, of Cook Family Farms, met Palmquist in much the same way. As a grower for NORPAC, she got to know him through Cook Family Farms’ relationship with NORPAC over the past 10 years. At the same time, much like McCargar, she’s also gotten to know him as a fellow ABC board member and friend. “He is a stable presence on the ABC board,” Cook says, “always willing to support and provide vegetable products for Denim & Diamonds and other functions.” McCargar adds that, “If there was ever a need for something from Chuck, he was right there to ask and get it.”
Indeed, Palmquist’s time at NORPAC has been more than just changes of positions, or giving farmers access to the marketplace. It has led to and solidified many friendships he will miss as he prepares to retire next year. Retirement, for Palmquist, holds many things, catching up with friends who’ve already retired, volunteering, and spending more time with his wife Sara, their four sons and their grandchild. Although he looks forward to these and other adventures, he will always be grateful for his time spent at NORPAC. “It’s been a great place to work. I’ve had many great opportunities with NORPAC,” says Palmquist, “I’ve never gotten tired of what I did. I’ve really appreciated being part of this whole industry and working for NORPAC.”