Seeking the end of nutrition insecurity with A.G. Kawamura
Published: May 19, 2023
When you think of California, the first thing that may come to mind is “Lights, camera, action!” Not only is it a hub for the movie industry, California has a very diverse agricultural landscape, producing more than a third of the vegetables consumed in the US and more than 75 percent of the US’s fruits and nuts. One of the operators contributing to this production of crops in the Golden State is A.G. Kawamura and his family. “A.G. is a model member of the agriculture community. He’s very involved in the local industry, as well as the broader industry at a national level,” says David Drucker, a Sales Representative for Nutrien Ag Solutions who has supported A.G.’s operations with fertility inputs for around 15 years. "A.G. is very dedicated to doing his part to contribute to food security. It’s been an honor to get to work with someone who is so driven by the purpose in their day-to-day work." Get to know how the third-generation grower decided to follow in his family’s footsteps and found his passion for making nutrition insecurity a thing of the past.
The family business
Both sides of A.G.’s family were involved with agriculture in California. During World War II, both sides of A.G.’s family were forced to leave their businesses to report to Japanese internment camps. When WWII ended, A.G.’s dad and grandfather didn’t return to California right away. They realized that they could buy crops from growers in Arizona to sell to the market in Los Angeles, CA due to their knowledge of the industry in that area. In 1946, the Western Marketing Company was officially formed.
Unfortunately, local officials said the deal was not able to go through because A.G.’s immigrant grandfather was not a US citizen. His father on the other hand, was born in the US and had citizenship. A.G.’s dad, a recent University of California, Los Angeles graduate before the war and had been establishing his career in Colorado, returned to save the new family business. With A.G.’s dad on board, the family’s company grew to distribute more crops in chain stores across the US.
The company built business relationships with several grocery chains and wholesalers that were willing to partner with Japanese growers and business owners. They were very grateful for this support due to the lingering negative sentiments following WWII.
Coming from a family with such a strong agricultural background, one would think that A.G. had always known he would pursue a career in agriculture.
“We weren’t pressured as kids or teenagers to go into agriculture. Honestly, I don’t think my dad thought any of us were going to join the family business,” says A.G. “When I told him I wanted to join him and start farming, he was excited to share this experience with me – and later with my brother as well. Now we run the family business together.”
To teach A.G. the basics of business and to help him get some pocket change, his father helped him set up a side business when he was 13. A.G. maintained and cared for the bees, harvested the honey from the honeycombs, and found ways to sell the honey. The business, AG Honey, continued through A.G.’s time in college at the University of California, Davis.
Finding his footing
With a bit of background with the agriculture industry from his family’s business and honey side hustle, A.G. entered college thinking he would pursue a degree in Agribusiness. However, in his junior year, A.G. switched his focus to get a degree in English Literature to become a writer and transferred to the University of California, Berkley. Before graduation, he was certain his future was with the Peace Corps due to his passion for wanting to end hunger issues, but A.G. quickly realized that there was a way he could directly make a difference.
“I was taking classes in third-world development and quickly found myself being very passionate about living and working to see the day when hunger ends. I figured out that I could help directly influence this issue by joining my family’s business and growing food myself that can help others,” says A.G.
Joining the family business in 1978, A.G. started out working in the packing shed and then on the sales desk selling vegetables and strawberries. Because of his proficiency in Spanish as a Spanish Literature major in college, he transferred to the farming operations where he’s been involved ever-since growing conventional and organic produce.
The family’s business continued to expand into new crops and opportunities to share food with the world. In 2003, an unexpected opportunity arose. After the 2002 election, the citizens of California demanded a recall election to replace Governor Gray Davis. With the recall, all cabinet members of the Davis administration had to vacate their positions so the new governor could fill the cabinet with their choices for each role. One position that would be empty was the Secretary of Agriculture.
A.G. was already involved in several county and state-level agriculture policy organizations, such as the Farm Bureau and Western Growers Association (WGA), and was surprised when people began asking him if he was planning on throwing his hat into the ring for the position.
“On September 1, 2003, I got a phone call from a close friend asking if I was going to throw my hat in the ring for Secretary of Ag. At first, I thought to myself – why would I want to work in government? But the seed had already been planted in my head,” says A.G. “I was sworn in as the Secretary of Ag two months later on November 16. It was just the right time, right place, and right support from the industry.”
He would go on to serve for seven years as the Secretary of Agriculture in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cabinet. A.G. is still highly active in state and national-level agriculture policy groups to this day, particularly with Solutions from the Land and the 21st Century Agriculture Renaissance.
A.G.’s present-day focus
If you thought A.G. would slow down after his government role, you would be wrong. Today, he is engaged with several agriculture companies. First there is Orange County Produce, LLC. (Formerly Western Marketing Company). Orange County Produce focuses on growing and partnering with other farms to produce green beans and other vegetables all year long.
Then there is GEM Pack, which is the company that grows and ships strawberries across the US and the globe into major chain stores. A.G. is also a partner in California Berry Cultivars (CBC), which is a new and emerging strawberry breeding company with exciting new cultivars. Last, but not least, there is The Harvest Solutions Farm – A.G.’s primary passion project. Unlike the other companies and farms remarkably, Harvest Solutions Farm grows fresh crops solely for local food banks.
“The drive behind why I do the work I do has evolved with time. We have the capacity to end world hunger, but not the will to do so. Often, the easy fix involves delivering unhealthy, empty calories as the default option for people to eat. Nutrient dense diets are crucial to human health and the health of communities,” says A.G. “Now, I say that I want to live and work to see the day when nutrition insecurity ends.”
Want to learn more about The Harvest Solutions Farm? Check out the organization’s website.