Plane crash kills Florida berry grower-shipper

06/25/2008 02:00:00 AM

By Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor, The Packer

Colleagues and family remembered John Borchard, a Plant City, Fla., strawberry grower-shipper who died in a plane crash, as one who helped change the selling of Florida's strawberries.

Borchard, 43, president of JMB Bros. Inc., died June 7 after a plane he was flying in crashed off Florida's Gulf Coast.

Memorial services were scheduled for June 17 in Montecito, Calif., with burial planned for Camarillo, Calif. Other services were held in Tampa, Fla., on June 12 and June 13.

A fisherman found Borchard's body floating a mile away from the Cedar Key, Fla., airport hours after the single-engine plane Borchard and a female friend of Borchard's visiting from Iowa were flying in crashed into the Gulf of Mexico at midnight shortly after takeoff. Divers also found the bodies of the woman and the pilot, a Plant City businessman, in the wreckage.

According to media reports, the flight was supposed to have been a brief, spur-of-the-moment sightseeing trip.

The Coast Guard and other safety officials were called in to search for the plane after it was declared missing two hours after takeoff.

Raised in a farming family, Borchard, who was born in Santa Maria, Calif., began working in the strawberry industry for Santa Maria-based Central West Produce. After graduating from Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Borchard in 1991 moved to Florida, where he and other partners sold berries through Calflo Produce Inc.

By charging growers a fixed rate per flat instead of taking a percentage of sales, John Borchard helped change the way berries were sold in Florida, said Jim Borchard, partner in Cool Pak, Oxnard, Calif., and brother of John Borchard.

"It was a leap of faith for them to come to Florida, but it panned out quite well," Jim Borchard said. "When he first came out to Florida, everyone was kind of shocked. No one knew much about the area (for strawberries). When he first started working, there was a whole different system that everyone was used to."

Brother Pat Borchard runs JMB, founded in 2003, which also grows and ships vegetables.

Carl Grooms, president Fancy Farms, Plant City, said John Borchard was instrumental in the berry industry.

"John was a California boy who came into the Plant City area," Grooms said. "He was brave to tackle the berry industry in Florida because it's so much harder to grow and produce from here than in California. He accomplished that and was a good farmer who grew a lot of berries here. He was an asset to the industry. We will miss him."

John Borchard was a former board member of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Dover.

John Borchard is survived by his wife, Melissa Borchard; five children; his parents; a maternal grandmother; two sisters and two brothers; and 12 nieces and nephews. One of John Borchard's brothers, Joseph Borchard, died in 1984.

Instead of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to St. Michael's Preparatory High School; 19292 El Toro Rd.; Silverado, Calif., 92676; attention: The Rev. Eugene Joseph Hayes.

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