Todd Hirasuna will be the first to admit that he likes working with people, especially at Sunnyside Packing Company.
As general manager of the facility located outside of Selma, Hirasuna continues the tradition of working and supporting family-run farmers and growers, started by his grandfather, Fred Hirasuna.
Todd Hirasuna has always had a passion for agriculture. “I’m third generation born and raised around it,” Hirasuna said.
Hirasuna graduated from Bullard High School in Fresno and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agricultural Business.
Hirasuna has been a member of the Board since 2009.
Hirasuna’s grandfather had aspirations of becoming a teacher, but after World War II those plans faded.
Upon his return to the Valley, Fred Hirasuna along with Morris Cocola and Minoro Omata founded Sunnyside Packing, originally located on G Street in downtown Fresno.
With no refrigeration available in the 1940’s for Japanese-American farmers and growers, it was difficult to pick their crops with no place to store them, explained Todd.
“They picked that day and took them to a central location,” Hirasuna said. “They were at the mercy of whoever was going to pay them for their product because they couldn’t store it.”
Finding the need to help growers, Sunnyside Packing was formed.
“They took hundreds of small growers and combined them into a one-label box that basically had the appearance of one large grower,” Hirasuna said. “That way they could sell it to the chain stores and get higher returns for the growers.”
Sunnyside Packing Company has a farming operation of 650 acres with 150 outside family-run growers.
Responsibility like this isn’t for everyone
One of the many aspects of being the general manager that Todd enjoys is being on the move and playing an integral role with growers and other employees.
“I’m not a sit-behind-the-desk kind of guy,” Hirasuna said. His main responsibility is to run the packing operation and oversee the farming operation, working closely with outside family-run growers that plant squash, onions, beans, peppers and eggplants. He adds: “They still represent what the company was founded on.”
“We’ve done the marketing work to build brand recognition within the industry. They grow it, pack in our box and bring it to us,” Hirasuna said. “We cool it, sell it and ship it.”
Often times, Hirasuna has to take a step back to maintain all aspects of the business, including human resources.
“That’s the part of the job that requires me to sit behind the desk,” Hirasuna said. “I enjoy it, but there are definitely days where everything goes wrong and you want to bang your head against the wall and wonder ‘What am I doing?’”
He quickly added, “Every day is different and 95 percent of the time I wake up and look forward to going to work.”
Planting squash was delayed 10 days while eggplants and peppers were two to three weeks late, Hirasuna said. Once the weather remains consistent, the packing and shipping season runs at full steam. “You go from doing absolutely nothing and within four to five weeks running on all cylinders,” Hirasuna said.
When this happens Hirasuna logs in plenty of hours. “I’m here during the season on average 13-14 hours a day,” Hirasuna said. “It doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to do anything else.”
More than agriculture
Through the Fresno County Farm Bureau’s Future Advocates for Agriculture Concerned about Tomorrow (FAACT) class, Hirasuna learned about more than just agriculture.
“We did a multitude of things,” Hirasuna said. “You got to go and see things that you probably never would. For example, we got to go into Pine Flat Dam, meet politicians in Sacramento and learn that there is so much more to ag than growing and shipping.”
His participation in FAACT in 2007 inspired him to give back.
“If I can find the means I would tell everyone and everybody [about FCFB and FAACT],” Hirasuna said, “Especially if they have no background knowledge of agriculture. My passion is ag, and it’s a good way to help farmers and all agriculturalists in the area. It’s constantly changing, something new every day.”
Meet Your Board Members Profile: Ag Today, Jun 10
By: George Villagrana