HANFORD — The job of a farmer isn’t what it used to be, but that hasn’t stopped third-generation Hanford farmer John Tos. When he’s not busy operating Tos Farms and volunteering in the community, he’s fighting to protect a way of life that his own family has enjoyed now for a century.
“It’s kind of a tradition,” said Tos, 70. “You grow up learning something and you’re your own boss or employer, and that has its benefits. I was given the opportunity to continue farming and I liked it. And I don’t know anything else.”
Earlier this month, the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce named Tos the 2012 Kings County Agriculturist of the Year. He will be honored on Sept. 7 at the 18th Annual Kings County Salute to Agriculture. Education & Agriculture Together Foundation will be honored as Ag Supporter of the Year.
Tos Farms was founded in 1912 by his grandfather, Joe Tos, a Dutch immigrant. During the Great Depression, the elder Tos saved the farm from foreclosure using money from his children’s piggy banks. His sons, Bill and Larry Tos, later benefited from that decision when they took over operations.
Today, Tos Farms is in its third and fourth generations. Tos bought out his uncle in 1972, and his brother, Bill, bought out their father’s share in 1981. John’s son, Jeff, became a partner in 1993 and just last year, his nephew, Mark, also became a partner.
“My son, Jeff, he and his wife just had twin boys, who are now 6 weeks old,” Tos said. “Those are our first grandchildren and that’s the fifth generation if they go into farming.”
Tos Farms employs an average of 250 to 300 people, producing assorted stone fruits, table grapes, almonds, walnuts, corn and alfalfa. It also operates a walnut dehydrator.
Besides carrying on a family tradition, Tos said he most enjoys producing crops in the face of difficult and unpredictable challenges that pop up year to year. He said no two years are the same.
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“Every year it’s a drought or too much rain, insects or hail, pricing,” he said. “No one knew the Midwest would dry up this year, and consequently prices out here are pretty good right now. We lost virtually all of our tree fruit this past March when the hailstorm came through. That’s the first time that that’s ever happened, where we lost it all. Then there’s labor issues, rules and regulations. Someone has to be out of their minds to come up with some of these laws and requirements.”
Tos serves as director for the California Grape and Tree League, the Kingsburg Federal Land Bank Association and the Burris Park Foundation and is a member of the Maranatha and Sierra Village Retirement Homes board of directors. He has also served on the Hanford Christian and Central Valley Christian school boards.
Although he prefers to keep a low profile, Tos has been attending meetings to testify against the California high-speed rail project for the past two and a half years. Tos is also one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit aimed at stopping the construction of the project.
“I learned a long time ago if you don’t speak up, you don’t get what you want taken care of,” he said. “Somebody else that does speak up will get their way. So I was taught a long time ago that if you have something to say, say it. Otherwise, don’t bellyache.”
The proposed east alignment would run through six Tos Farms ranches. The west alignment would run through two others. But he said his opposition to the project isn’t just about protecting some land. It’s about protecting a way of life.
“We don’t live here by choice, originally, but because we grew up here,” Tos said of area farmers. “Family upon family and generations upon generations. There’s nothing that says we have to stay here, but it’s our choice. Our choice is to live in a community that’s close-knit, a beautiful community. We do not want that challenged or disrupted.
“That might sound selfish, but I don’t think it is. If people want to live in an urban area like San Francisco or a city like Modesto, more power to them. But we have chosen a community where we know one another, enjoy one another, support one another. It’s family. It’s a big family and we do not want that jeopardized.”
The reporter can be reached at 583-2458 or meiman@HanfordSentinel.com.