Strawberry picking is a grueling job, and each year it yields some of the most inspiring stories out there. A handful of strawberry pickers have gone above and beyond to positively impact their communities and inspire others to pursue their dreams. Here are four inspiring stories of strawberry pickers who can motivate you to do more:
1) Jesús Alvarado
Jesus Alvarado is the founder of Fresalva Berry LLC, an 80-acre strawberry farm in Salinas, CA. Born in Michoacán, Mexico, Jesús started picking strawberries in his hometown when he was eight. His love for strawberries led him to pursue strawberry farmwork in adulthood, and he eventually moved to the US to work as a fruit picker.
When Jesús came to the US, he did not speak English, and his then employers introduced him to an English tutor. Jesús worked diligently to learn the language, and in no time, he could communicate fluently in English. He believes that learning English played a significant role in his success.
Jesús worked as a strawberry picker for some time until Ed Ortega, a well know strawberry grower, approached him for a partnership. At the time, Jesús did not believe he had anything to offer since he had no money he could contribute to the business. Ortega was more interested in Jesús’s industry knowledge, and in 1998, the two became business partners.
Fresalva, a combination of Fresa, the Spanish name for strawberry, and Alvarado, Jesús’s last name, was born out of his business pursuits. When Jesús started the strawberry business, he excelled at farm management. He had to learn the financial side of the business since he had no previous knowledge of accounting practices. He found his footing, and his business is thriving today.
Through Fresalva, Jesús has created employment for many other Mexican immigrants in the US. His farm also allows him to support his family. Fresalva is now a family business whose main client is Driscoll, one of the largest strawberry distributors in the country. Jesús has come a long way from a young strawberry picker to a business owner, and for him and his family, the future is bright.
2) Jim Cochran
Jim Cochran is the founder of Swanton Berry Farm, one of California’s first commercial organic strawberry farms. Jim began Swanton Berry farm in 1947. At the time, he was 36 and had worked on farmworker-owned cooperatives in Central California for some time.
When Jim and his friend Mark Matze set out to start a strawberry farm, no one in California had ever grown strawberries commercially. The two encountered many naysayers. The two friends rented out a four-acre farm, bought an old tractor, and began their strawberry farming venture.
Jim and Mark spent their first few years as commercial strawberry farmers experimenting with chemical and organic farming methods. They did not make much money, and eventually, Mark decided to move on to other farming ventures.
Jim took out a loan and invested in the farm, and his efforts paid off. In 1987, the California Certified Organic Farmers certified Swanton Farm, making it the first organic strawberry farm in Carolina. The farming methods Jim discovered while experimenting on his farm formed the guideline for other commercial-scale strawberry farmers in Carolina who came after him. Today, the Swanton Berry farm has rented four ranches north of Santa Cruz and continues to thrive.
3) The Ukegawas
The Ukegawa family owns the Carlsbad Strawberry Company. The company has been in the family for four generations. Before World War II, the Ukegawas were farmers in Tustin. After the world war began, the family lost their farmland and was imprisoned in a camp for four years. Hiroshi Ukegawa served in the US military during the war.
The Ukegawas had to rebuild their lives after the war. Hiroshi and his family moved to North County and began farming tomatoes and strawberries on a 2000-acre land. What started as a family farm blossomed into the Carlsbad Strawberry Company.
Hiroshi’s son Jimmy earned a degree in plant and soil and returned to help run the family farm with this knowledge. Jimmy’s daughter Robyn is now in charge of the company’s branding. What started as a family’s effort to rebuild their life has grown into a company that sustains the Ukegawas and all their employees.
4) Farmer Tanaka
Farmer Tanaka is a third-generation Japanese American and the founder of Tanaka farms. Tanaka was the grandson of Japanese immigrants who began their lives in the US working as farm hands on a small farm. Their son, Tanaka’s father, George, and his mother, Chris, followed his parents’ path. He and his wife got a small farm in Orange County, where they grew strawberries and tomatoes.
Their son started farming, but on a larger scale. Tanaka got a 300-acre farm and began growing tomatoes and strawberries for wholesale. He would package his produce and distribute it countrywide, and thus was born Tanaka farms.
When Tanaka had his son Kenny, he would bring Kenny’s class on tours at the farm, where the children got the chance to pick strawberries. The Tanaka farm is considered one of the best places to pick strawberries in CA, and thousands of schoolchildren go there every year on U-pick tours.
Be a Successful Strawberry Picker
These inspiring stories show that hard work and determination can lead to success in any field. Each strawberry picker has worked their way up from humble beginnings and have now become successful and respected community members. You can take a lesson from them: regardless of your challenges, you can achieve your goals through dedication and perseverance.