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Last Update: Sunday February 25, 2018

Key Idea: Do What You Love

The founder has been picking and cooking up Oregon berries since he was tall enough to stir a pot in his Mom's kitchen.  More...

Key Question:

A: 

Keep falling in love with what you do.  Gary Walls loves his home.  He loves the fruit that is grown in Oregon and he loves seeing it come through his processing and land on the tables of happy customers.  This love kept him alive longer than doctors predicted.  We're not exaggerating. He is in heaven now but when we met him we never would have guessed that he was suffering so.  This is a love story like we have never seen and we are thrilled to share it here.

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Think about it

What do you do to stay passionate about your business like you were when you started it?

Clip from: Trailblazer Foods

Portland, Oregon: Employing over 60 people, in this episode we take you from the source -- beautiful berry fields throughout Oregon -- to the finished product. For his success in building a business and for championing the export of Oregon's wonderful fruit, The Small Business Administration named Gary Small Business Person of the Year for Oregon.

Sometimes our show becomes a tribute to a life well lived. When we taped this show, Gary had physical limitations. He paced himself. But in August 2001, Gary died and left this wonderful legacy to his immediate family, his family of employees, his family of customers and suppliers, and his largest family, the world. Surely you will see why by tasting value, you also have an after-taste that profits many. For Gary Walls, it is a taste that is tangibly intangible. It may first be in the taste of the berry; it is also in a taste for life's greatest blessings.


Trailblazer Foods

Gary Walls, Founder

17900 NE San Rafael
Portland, OR 97230
503 666 5800

Visit our web site: http://www.trailblazerfoods.com

Office: 503 666 5800

Business Classification:
Retail

Year Founded: 1985

Do What You Love

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Do you love boysenberries but the seeds stick in your teeth? The horticulturists of Oregon have invented a berry that tastes better than a boysenberry and has no seeds. This is the Marionberry. This perfect little fruit is the inspiration behind Trailblazer Foods.

GARY WALLS (Owner, Trailblazer Foods): The state of Oregon, I love this state. I think the people in it--we're very close in terms of our businesses and very much a team.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Gary Walls, the founder of Trailblazer Foods, loves his home state of Oregon, and he wants the whole world to taste the Marionberry and the other farm products grown in this beautiful place. Gary makes jams, preserves, syrup, toppings and pie fillings for restaurants and specialty gift shops. With 40 employees and $12 million in sales, Gary is thrilled to be in a brand-new building and is growing his business by developing new products.

So right now, today, how many products are you manufacturing?

GARY: I think today we probably manufacture a hundred more than we should. But we probably manufacture 140 different items, that we manufacture here.

Marionberry was the first one, then we got 139 more.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) We drove about one hour south of the Portland Airport to find the Kramer family farm. Even though Gary owns a small farm, he buys most of his berries from farmers like Ken Kramer.

You are the primary supplier of Marionberries for Gary, right?

KEN KRAMER (Owner, Berry Farm): Yes.

HATTIE: OK. Tell me about this farm, what else you do besides Marionberries.

KEN: We raise strawberries and evergreens, lots of fruits and vegetables; strawberries, Marions, evergreens, corn, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli. We're...

HATTIE: And Christmas trees.

KEN: And Christmas trees.

HATTIE: OK.

KEN: We're a large family farm.

HATTIE: Did you ever consider getting a job and going to an office somewhere?

KEN: No. No, never did. I have always wanted to grow up on the farm, and I grew up on the farm and I've worked with the people all of my life, and that's where I wanted to stay.

HATTIE: So what is happening this year you told me about earlier that's kind of stressful?

KEN: Well, we've lost approximately 60 percent of our Marionberries because of a winter freeze that we had. Normally, this whole trellis system would just be solid green and there'd be fruit spurs coming down.

HATTIE: OK, that means Gary's going to have to pay twice as much for the berries.

KEN: Primarily, the biggest obstacle we have with the Marionberries and a lot of our crops is the weather. We're at the mercy of the weather with all of our crops.

HATTIE: Yeah. So you do everything you can do to make your business as efficient and productive as possible and then hope you get the best weather.

KEN: Hope and pray. And that's why we have church pews in our office.

HATTIE: Gary, why are you in this business? Can you think back to when you first fell in love with berries?

GARY: I think the very first memory I have is my grandmother and grandfather had a bean farm and I'd stay there in the summertime. And we'd get up very early, and my grandmother and I would go down, she'd put a bonnet on and we'd walk down to the bottom, and there were some raspberries, and the fog was kind of coming off the fields and it was beautiful. And we'd pick some berries. And we'd go back and we'd put cream--and still, raspberries are my very favorite fruit. But I remember that vividly, and I've always loved berries. And when I was younger in Salem where I lived, we picked berries in the summertime; that was a means of making money for school clothes, and I enjoyed doing that. It was a challenge to see how much I could save during the summertime so I could have some things for school. And berries has always been part of my life.

HATTIE: Well, when you picked them, did you eat some of them, too?

GARY: I was probably known to eat more than anybody else. I could win that prize. I never won the prize of picking the most, but I usually could eat the most.

HATTIE: When did you start cooking and developing recipes with the berries?

GARY: Well, my mom, she was a cook at the Delta Gamma--well, out at Willamette University. And so she was a wonderful cook, and she was very inventive about canning and making things, and I just loved the things that she made and I watched what she did and just had a knack and a love to do that, too. And it was fun to do some creations with different kinds of berries and things. So I do that.

HATTIE: But you're not a farmer?

GARY: I am; we have a small farm. I saved a little money over the years and we bought a blueberry farm. But basically, the fruit that we use in our business, we buy it from the Kramers and other growers in the area. We aren't the bigger supplier of our own fruit. We buy it from other growers.

HATTIE: So when you come out to this field, do you feel like it's yours?

GARY: I feel like this is mine.

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