Alan Weeks
Alan Weeks

PALM DESERT, Calif. — Retired two years ago from her job as a school psychologist, Ilene Weeks found herself running the family business, K&W Farms, this summer after the unexpected death of her brother.

Alan Weeks, longtime general manager of the Palm Desert-based fig and citrus grower, died at 53 on May 18 after a February cancer diagnosis.

Through her career in education, Ilene Weeks had always stayed active in company meetings. She describes herself as having grown up in K&W Farms, founded by her father Lowell Weeks.

But she didn’t have a hand in daily operations. Alan had overseen farming, packing and cooling, sales and accounting.

As the new general manager, Ilene had big shoes to fill.

“I’ve been baptized by fire in a total immersion situation,” she said in July.

“It was a shock to all of us. Until two days before (Alan) died, we assumed he would recover, so we were unprepared to run our farming operations without him.”

“I didn’t know where to begin,” Weeks said. “All I could do was ask questions, which led to more questions. I now occasionally have a few answers, so I’m thinking that’s progress. I’m feeling really confident at this point.”

Weeks credits strong support from employees, among them farm supervisors Jose Langarica and Tino Aceves, and office manager Cecilia Guzman. Various family members came to Palm Desert to organize invoicing methods, streamline the computer system, or work in the packing shed.

“K&W Farms is very much a family affair,” Weeks said.

K&W Farms GM ‘baptized by fire’The company began in the 1950s with 80 acres of Coachella desert-region land converted to thompson seedless grapes. K&W Farms now owns 400 acres and grows figs, lemons, tangerines and tangelos. The figs carry the Mecca Gold label.

K&W Farms grows, packs and cools brown turkey figs in conventional and organic. They’re in cold storage less than an hour after packing, necessary for one of the more perishable fruits. They also have a small breba crop in the spring.

For 2012, K&W Farms plans to begin offering small volumes of other fig varieties, such as black missions, panache and sierra.

“We’re planning on some variety packs at that point, with several kinds of figs in one container,” Weeks said.

The company works through Western Fresh Marketing and numbers Costco among its important clients.