Farmer Harold Tamano

Harold Tamano transcipt
Rainjita Geesler
Ag contributions

My name’s Harold Tamano, I’m 59 years old. I have been farming since 1974… I’ve lived in sacramento all of my life. The farm is a veggie farm, my father was farming before me, grandfather before him. We used to be in rancho cardova, moved from an 18 acre farm, to here, 42 acres which I expanded to 100 acred in 1982. I’ve now quit farming, too many debts, and the farm is up for sale.

1:08 What are your early memories of farming, what do you remember from your grandpa or father?

Mostly that I had to work, my school memories are when we went back to school, everyone talked about what they did for vacation. And since we always had to work during the summer I never had those type of vacations. Play was basically, because we had other farm neighbors. And we used to have ballgames. It was like you come home from school, parents emphasize school. If you have a paper, you were excused from work, otherwise you were expected to come home and go to the field and work. I never intended to become a farmer, it seemed like all work to me. I changed my mind when I was going to graduate college, mainly because I saw that my father didn’t work during the winter, which I never saw because I was always in school. And so there is time off. Winter is the slow time, so as long as there is some time off and the fact that by farming you got to be your own boss I decided to give it a try. We did fine, farming was good up until the late 80’s early 90’s, then there was an economic struggle.

How old were you when you decided to take your fathers farm?


Why do you think that you chose farming?

3:40 I didn’t like trying different kinds of jobs, I liked working outside and the independence. Having your own business you can make your own hours even if they are long. Financial rewards also. When you are first out of college it didn’t take too much to accomplish financial rewards. In other words it didn’t take much to make me happy. But since then we’ve had some really good years and really bad years. More so lately bad years, good years were early.

4:24 What do you mean by good years?

Good years, economically. We’re making money. There’s been years when we made almost a fortune, 100,000 80,00 a year, that was in the early 80’s. And then there’s been years when I’ve lost 50-60,000 a year, and there has been too many of those years like that recently. It’s been a financial burden trying to stay farming

5:14 Why has there been a downturn in the last years?

I imagine that the economics of farming has changed. Gone to corporate farming, in that if you want to keep your costs down, you have to do volume, you have to buy box by the volume, have to do by fuel volume. You can get discounts or buy items for less money by buying volume verses a few thousand boxes at a time. Then they work off of a smaller profit margin, a smaller percentage. A large company can work off of breaking even most of the year, or making 5cents off of a box of lettuce. I need 50 cents if I want to come out ahead at the end of the year, and the market just isn’t there.

How did your father get into farming? Introduce us to him.

My father was Kiyoshi Tamano, he was a kiibe, born here educated in japan, and came back here when he was 16. Worked as a laborer, and then started his own farm. I don’t know when, back in the early 30’s that he started farming. I’m sure that they must have had just the subsistence level initially, but in the 60’s and 70’s he did fairly well, and of course by the time he was doing fairly well, is when I came along and got into the business. And initially I did fairly well, but like I said times have changed.

8:03- father internment, WWII, how did that impact farm?

Impact on farming was not very large because my father was just starting. He did not have a lot of equipment, and didn’t have a lot to loose. He only started making money after the war.

What did he farm?

Mainly cucumbers and leaf lettuce. He introduced lemon cucumbers in sac in early 50’s. with the advent of the English cucs, lemon cucs have gone to wayside.

What do you see has been a jap ag contribution to farming as a whole?

9:41- potato king, in Stockton, who reclaimed land and used cheap land to grow crops. In 50-60’s because it was labor intensive, all the farmers didn’t have much help, and farmed small pieces. As much as they could handle. Like my father had only 18 acres, for a family with no hired help that is as much as physically handle. Like I said he intro lemon cucs, not too many people grew leaf lettuce here. Too warm an area. All most all small scale farming. Corporate farming is just mass production, you just have to have a mind set.

11:36- what was the day to day like on the farm?

Early on only wholesale. Raleys, Safeway. I grew mostly leaf lettuce, we sold 3-400 cases a day. I still grew specialty crops, lemon cucs, Crenshaw melons. Always trying side crops, mustard greens, whatever. After safeway moved their warehouse to tracy, and raleys went into their nutriclean certified produce I found that I was losing money. I couldn’t sell enough to make money. So in 92 I switched my whole operation to doing farmers markets. Started with the same crops I did wholesale/ As the years went by I grew more specialty items. Japanese cucs, gobo, no one else grows gobo here, wholesale you can’t sell it and make monbey. I could sell it retail and make monty. Regular melons, honey dew. Prided myself in growing better and sweeter product because I was selling directly to the consumer. We’d leave the melons on the vines longer, sweeter. Cucs make sure they were the right size and color. I was into tomatoes for some time, but at the farmers market every third stall were tomatoes. Too much competition. I didn’t sell enough to make it worth while. I didn’t like doing it. Off and on tried specialty things, artichokes, cactus, kobocha, Japanese mustard, real specialty Japanese items, but it didn’t work out. I was always trying something new. I have a special section in my field that I grow all my experimental stuff, just to try.

And now that you stopped farming do you miss it?

15:43- Yes and no, when you worked for yourself all your life it’s hard to work for someone else. Because you see that maybe I would do things differently, but that is not my choice when it is someone else’s business. I was at the farmers market this morning visiting, and they said you seem happier. And I said well it could be just that I am not under that financial stress. I don’t have to worry about is my truck going to run today, or if my tractor is going to break tomorrow and where the money is going to come to pay for that stuff. And maybe I won’t make as much money at the end of the year, but at least I know how much I am going to be making, and that I don’t have to worry about the equipment or the crops. I guess its been getting to me, the stress, the stress of whether we’re going to make any money this year or not. You get so used to doing it that you don’t realize that the stress is getting to you, until you get out from under it.

17:18- What was the process like deciding to quit?

It wasn’t too hard. It’s something that had been coming for the last ten years anyway, because I haven’t been making too much money. After I paid my payroll taxes, and everything when I realized that I didn’t have any money left to start up. And in order to get money to buy seeds and start up money that we need, I would actually have to borrow money, and I would have to put up my house or the land as collateral, and if we had a couple more bad years like that then I would lose that also. And I have seen too many of my friends and neighbors get in the same predicament and end up losing everything including their house. And I said I just don’t want to get in that situation if I can afford it. And so I was offered a job, and at my age getting offered a job is rare, and I said I better take it. Because I don’t see that farming is going to get economically any better anyway. So at the end of January I said that’s it, no more money I quit.

18:58 And did you make the right decision?

Yes, so far, especially with how the weather has been so far this year. With the way that it has been raining, and how wet it’s been I would have been fretting a bit about clearing the ground to start planting for this next season, it’s kind of nice to not have to worry about that.

20:00 What are other obstacles that you faced during farming? In the early years there was a lot of racism. What do you think of those hard times now?

No I have not experienced too much of that. In my experience, times have changed. Either I am not efficient enough, and it’s hard to admit that your at fault, but it’s just the way of the farming industry right now. Unless you can find a specialty crop that will pay you more profit percentage wise, you have to be too large, and too many acres to make a profit.

How many people worked for you?

Three and a half. 2 ladies and one guy. He drove tractor and irrigated, the ladies did picking and weeding. One sister would come for half a year for the harvest. Three people were retired helped me sell at the farmers makets. We did up to ten farmers markets a week.

Did you make money at the farmers markets?

No, never like the early 80’s. I survived, and on a good year I would make 30,000 dollars, and that is not a lot especially these days. And so I have just been biding my time actually, saying that development has to come this way some time, and then I can sell the property and retire. Then I see all my friends who work for the state who retire at 55, and I say I must have done something wrong. Ha ha, but I haven’t really regretted in the sense that my life has been good, and I have been able to do things pretty much that way that I want to. Take my own type of vacation, even though they weren’t the doing typical vacation times. Like summer, we always took our vacations in the winter. My wife said that now we can take our vacations during the regular peoples time. And I said who wants to go to florida in the middle of summer, la in summer, Hawaii in summer. The best times are during the winter.

23:37- What’s in the future ?

I’m looking to sell the land, we’ve had a few offers recently, they’re not the type of offers that I want. So we’ll just wait and see what happens, sac is developing, but mostly in the south. I figure the next big move will be this way, the offers we have had are speculators. All they want to give us is the option money, so in five years they can decide if they want to buy it or not. And of course they will only buy it if they will make money, if they know someone will buy it. I’m saying I’ll take a little less if you pay me right now, and so far they are saying no.

25:00 what do you want to see the land become?

I didn’t grow up here, Ranch Corora, and that’s all houses now. But I suppose ideally it would become a golf course, then it would be open. I’m not a golfer, but I have no ties as such. I sometimes wonder where we’re going to live. It would be nice to stay in the house and have a big yard. But it would be so out of place with the development. And I have heard horror stories of people trying to farm with development around it. And so I would never want to do that. Basically the land has always been an investment anyway.

26:00 Small scale farming? Garden food for family?

I intend to, yeah, maybe once I sell it I won’t be able to. But now I have half an acre of melons and cucs, cause I know I can make it taste better than what you can buy. I’m spoiled, I want something that tastes good.

26:43- Your father got into farming, and so did you. Talk about the intergenerational relationship with your dad, and others. It doesn’t go on to the fourth generation.

How have things changed?

My father started from scratch, even though his father farmed before him. But he went back to japan, and my father came back by himself. He just started from scratch. How he initially decided what to grow, I don’t know. Basically after I took over, my father already had the markets, and I already knew everyone in the area that grew or all the markets where you could sell things. I had already had those contacts as such. Equipment, I changed things, because everyone does their own way. He was into small scale, not much equipment. When I doubled the size of the farm we had to change the way we did things. I guess when your young and willing to put in more time and more money, because when you expand it costs you a lot more, and you think your going to make more. And initially you do, you do, it should work out that way, it’s just the whole industry has changed. Unless you again had to be a specialty item, and hit on it at the right time, and get big enough volume from it then you’re doing ok. Otherwise you just have to expand with the times, and that was too much risk. My fathers way of thinking of things was different than mine. I’m not sure he could have survived with the way he was doing things. And if you want to say I got much bigger, more than twice as large as he was doing, and it was a different way from him. I guess if my son got into farming he would have to go twice my size, and I probably would have thought like my dad, that’s not the way I do things. But if they made a go of it, then that’s fine. Now adays ya have to get way too large. Have to take really big risks to reap the rewards.

31:16- How did your dad feel about it? What was your relationship like when you wanted to farm bigger.

Well, I think he felt that it’s not like he would have done it, but if he saw that I was doing okay then he was fine with it. I guess he understood things kind of had to change anyway. Maybe because I went with more tractors and mechanical that was lazier than he was. He never objected, he never said I was doing things wrong. I don’t think he thought I was doing things wrong. Like I said we were doing okay. At the end, before he died, he saw that I was having trouble economically, and I started doing the farmers markets, and he said maybe that is the way to go. So he saw things were changing too. And within a couple of years after that I have had to change all the way around, I was going to the farmers market. I would have been like the 80 percent of the other farmers here, I would have been out of business ten years ago. Ishimotos, Masaheras, six farmers that tried to continue wholesale, and they either quit like I did before they got into big trouble, or a couple of them were in big debt and the only way they thought they could get out of it was to get out of farming. So out of the small veggie type farmers here, theres out of twelve there are three of us left. One is part time, so is the other guy. And myself, and after I leave there are only two. Neither of them are full time. And you have to be too large to survive.