MONTEREY, Calif. — The Grower-Shipper Association of Central California has honored George Tanimura, one of the founders of Salinas-based Tanimura & Antle, with a lifetime achievement in agriculture award.
Tanimura received the E.E. “Gene” Harden Award during a June 25 dinner at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, part of the trade association’s 73rd annual golf tournament and gala.
“He is a very deserving farmer,” Sam McKinsey, Grower-Shipper Association chairman, said as he presented the award. “He was a neighbor of mine, a mentor and an innovator to all of us in the ag industry.”
Tanimura, who will turn 96 on July 2, looked back on a life of changing fortunes that would have been hard to foresee at the start. Some remain hard to imagine, even in hindsight.
In 1923, he said, his family used a horse and buggy to move from San Juan Bautista. At the time his father, who grew lettuce, was eyeing land in Castroville.
His parents died during his teens, and during the Great Depression, Tanimura quit high school in his sophomore year to work full time.
“I didn’t own even one acre before the war and had hardly anything in assets,” he said.
As World War II approached, Tanimura and his brothers were subject to the draft. But after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, he ended up in a Japanese internment camp in Arizona. He sold off equipment and a lease, hoping to return within a year and get it all back at the same price.
That didn’t go quite as planned, but the experience wasn’t a total loss.
“The best thing I got out of it was, I met my wife in the internment camp,” Tanimura said. “We got married and she’s with me today.”
His wife, Masaye, was present for the award.
After the war Tanimura grew tomatoes, onions and other crops, first in Gilroy, then on a family ranch in Aromas. All the while he kept an eye out for places just south, in Salinas.
Eventually he farmed for packer and shipper Bud Antle, whom he credits for having pushed innovations such as vacuum cooling.
“Salinas changed on account of him,” Tanimura said. “Bud helped us out. We’d owe money on packing, he’d make it up. He’d go through all the invoices once a year and eat up red ink so it was almost impossible for farmers to lose money. That’s how come I started doing business with him.”
In 1982, members of the two families formed Tanimura & Antle. George Tanimura and Bob Antle, Bud Antle’s son, remain co-chairmen of the board.
As the award presentation drew to a close, Salinas mayor Dennis Donohue praised the grower. He recalled Tanimura’s response to a July 4, 2010, fire that caused $650,000 in damage to his home and the homes of neighbors. The blaze began on Tanimura’s roof; investigators suspected fireworks, and called it unintentional arson.
“It’s impossible to improve upon three words: brother, friend and partner,” Donohue said. “But I’d like to fill in one more word, neighbor. The Tanimuras had a tough Fourth of July last year. When I ran into George, he talked about his concern for his neighbors and the firefighters. That was no surprise.”