John Harris was born in 1943 on the farm his parents had started just a few years earlier in 1937 on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley near Five Points, about 45 miles Southwest of Fresno. It was the same profession as his grandfather and the same work John envisioned for himself. “I graduated from University of California at Davis in 1965 with a degree in agricultural production and had always wanted to be a farmer. After two years in the US Army via ROTC at Davis I came back to the farm and got immediately involved.”
He worked with his father for more than a decade until he died in 1981 leaving John as the sole shareholder and CEO of Harris Farms. A position he has held ever since.
To most I-5 travelers, Harris Ranch with its top notch restaurant, butcher shop, and hotel is a welcome respite along a mostly deserted stretch of highway. Harris is very proud of the beef and the complex that that wears his name, but most of those travelers are not aware that there is much more to the farm than cattle. “We have more than 13,000 acres on that farm and another1,500 acres in the Mettler area in Southern San Joaquin. We have about 4,000 acres in permanent crops and the rest is available for vegetable production.”
Harris has a very diverse portfolio of vegetable crops including lettuce, onions, garlic, many mixed vegetables and processing tomatoes. “We always grew some crops but we had to watch what we grew because we were on well water. As we have improved our eater we could improve our crops. We’ve continued to look for crops that can justify the high cost of the water.”
He said that means a heavy dose of vegetables, but the firm will grow cotton and grains if the price warrants it. “We have joint ventures with many different vegetables,” he said. “We do have Harris Fresh, which is the shipper of onions and garlics but to get in the vegetable shipping business you have to be year round and so we tend to be a segment of that larger picture.”
John Harris has been married to Carole for 44 years. Like John, she went to high school in Fresno and then on to UC Davis. The couple have no children but “we have our horses and also a couple of rottweiler’s that we are very close to.”
Raising and racing horses has been an avocation of the Harris Farms executive since well before he had that position.
“I began raising horses and racing them when I was 12 or 13,” he said. “I am passionate about horse racing, and have devoted much time and energy into trying to breed and race top thoroughbred horses and also have worked hard for the sport overall. I am just getting off the California Horse Racing Board after being appointed to three different terms. I like to give back to things I enjoy.”
Harris has partnered with fellow WG Director Don Valpredo of Don Valpredo Farms, Bakersfield, Calif., in horse ownership, and they have been successful enough to keep doing it year after year.
“We often forget how small of a minority farmers are and how people are so far removed from any knowledge of farms or agriculture that it is essential we work together to tell our story well. I think people intuitively like the basic concept of agriculture, but get fed a lot of myths. We may all compete with our fellow farmers, but the markets are so vast that we can all do well if we jointly work on issues. People can be independent and have varying ideas and still work together for the common good. None of us can accomplish much all by ourselves. We need to respect differences, but move forward.”