Seed business a century old

Gloria Hafemeister
Now Media Group


Jung Seed Company, headquartered in the village of Randolph, processes so many mail orders during the course of a year that the company has its own zip code.

'Grandpa loved mail order,' said President Dick Zondag. 'He didn't like talking with people – just plants.'

Zondag and his son, Nate, who will become the fourth generation to run the 109-year-old business, recently hosted a tour for finalists in the Alice in Dairyland competition.

Dick is the son of Betty Zondag, who was the only daughter of company founder J.W. Jung and his wife, Minnie. After earning his master's degree in floriculture and ornamental horticulture, he returned to the family business and is president of the company.

Nate has degrees in biology and natural resources and business administration from Wisconsin Lutheran College and is back working as operations manager at the company his great-grandparents started.

''I've been coming here since I was 4 years old,' he said. 'I came with Grandpa (Tuenis Zondag) and helped with anything he told me.'

Acknowledging the importance of a formal education, he added, 'College is good prep, but everything I've learned about this business I've learned on the job. I always knew I'd come back here. It's part of me.'

Farm seeds and catalogs

In the earlier years, the company had garden seed and farm seed divisions. In 1997, the two companies separated with the Zondag family operating the garden seed business and the Jung family operating the farm seed business under the new name of Jung Seed Genetics.

Tuenis Zondag was instrumental in establishing the Jung Garden Centers. The company has five around the state.

'Grandpa preferred the mail order, but Dad really liked people,' Dick said.

Each year, the company sends out 3 million catalogs that are just Jung's. They also have other specialty catalogs and, altogether, they send out 10 million each year.

The mail order portion of the business is somewhat seasonal, although orders come in all year around. During their peak season, 80 people in the call center take orders. About one-third of the orders come in through the mail, one-third online and one-third are called in.

'With' the business

Between the main business and the five garden centers, the company has 100 employees who Zondag said follow the founder's idea that they do not work 'for' the company but 'with' it. During the growing season there are also many seasonal workers who work in the company's farm fields in early spring before moving on to work in a nearby canning company.

Jungs raises shrubs and plants on about 125 acres of land near the village.

The company is now busy packing seed from May through December for the 2017 growing season. They also market plants and bare roots from their Randolph location.

'We send out three-quarters of a million tomato plants in the mail every year,' said Dick, who started the tomato plant business. 'It took us about 10 years to get the packing and shipping system right, but it works well.'

The company still has one of the original seed counters that is over 100 years old and still works. They keep it for nostalgic sake. The newer equipment is much more accurate and efficient.

They developed a barcode system and a system of checks and balances to check and recheck orders that are processed.

They have also constructed several coolers and freezers that have controlled temperatures for the specific needs of different plants.

While changes continue to occur in the company to make things more efficient and to protect the product, the thing that stays the same is the family's love for the green industry.

One of the Alice in Dairyland finalists touring the business described the family leading this business and their love for plants: 'I learned some of the best people have a little dirt under their fingernails.'