1995 Recipient of the Arthur T. Potts Award
Mr. Harry Shimotsu
Harry Shimotsu was born in McAllen, Texas, on March 9, 1920. His parents had moved to the Rio Grande Valley from Colorado in 1915 – having migrated from Japan in 1912. Subsequently, the family lived in several Valley towns before settling permanently in San Benito. He began his agricultural education almost as soon as he learned to walk. He and his brothers and sisters helped their parents with the chores around their small, rented farm. By the time he was 8 years old he was helping haul the family’s cotton crop to the gin in an old wagon. At 10 years of age Harry was showing signs of becoming a real produce salesman as he
peddled fruits and vegetables for his father.
By the time he graduated from high school Harry was farming in earnest. He rented 200 acres of land on which he grew tomatoes, potatoes, cotton, grain and mixed vegetables. He proudly served his country from 1945-46 in the Army Infantry stationed in Germany while other Japanese-Americans were detained in relocation centers. He returned to South Texas immediately after the peace treaty was signed and was one the
first Americans of Japanese descent to purchase land and farm in the Rio Grande Valley. Prior to that time Japanese-Americans were denied such an opportunity.
Harry started with 72 acres of farmland. By the time he was 42 years old he was farming 3,500 acres. In 1963 he built Rio Pak Co. and in 1967 he and his partners formed Valley Central Sales in Santa Rosa.
While continuing his involvement with these successful operations, Harry began his tenure as CEO and General Manager of Sharyland Plantation and Produce in 1973. Mr. Shimotsu holds this position presently with no signs of slowing down. In fact, during his 21 years at the helm of this company, Harry has expanded operations to an extent never dreamed of by the owners in Dallas. The company operates in West Texas, New Mexico, North Texas and Mexico as well as its huge Valley operation where they grow, pack and ship carrots, cabbage, onions (including 1015’s), broccoli, turnips, mustard and collard greens, beets, parsley, cucumbers, bell and jalapeno peppers, celery, spinach, dill, dandelion, kale, tomatoes, watermelons, and cantaloupes. They also grow commodity crops such as cotton, grain sorghum, sugarcane and corn. The Sharyland farm alone is comprised of 6,000 ac. all in one giant block of land.
Over the years Harry has devoted a considerable amount of time and resources to agriculture. He has served on the South Texas Lettuce Committee for 32 years since 1963; a far longer time than any other member. He also served as an alternate on the South Texas Onion Committee. He is President of Hidalgo Co. Irrigation District #19 where he has served on the Board of Directors since 1973. His position on the Board of Directors of the Harlingen National Bank (where he served for 16 years) enabled him to contribute to the financial growth of many South Texas agribusinesses.
A portrait of Harry and his brother, Kenneth, hangs in the Institute of Texan Cultures at the Hemisfair Arena in San Antonio. The Shimotsu brothers were recognized by the Institute in 1957 as pioneer vegetable growers in South Texas. Emphasis was placed on their contribution to the Valley economy and to agriculture in particular. Another honor Harry received was National Cotton Farmer of the Year in 1983 presented in Memphis, TN by Cotton Farming Magazine.
Harry was the first grower to initiate organized gleaning of his fields after harvest for charitable organizations such as the Food Bank, Children’s Home, Colonias del Valle and others. Harry hated to see good food go to waste especially in an area where there are so many needy people. In 1982 he convinced Art Schoemer (a Winter Texan from Wisconsin) to organize a crew of Winter Texans to glean the fields. He allowed the gleaners to keep half of what they pick (to freeze or distribute among their friends at the various mobile home parks) with the other half being donated to charity. This program has been going ever since with tons of vegetables donated each year. The geriatric gleaners have received national attention from NBC’s Connie Chung and ABC’s Peter Jennings. Harry was also one of the first Valley growers to participate in the Texas Department of Agriculture’s SOS (Share our Surplus) program. Sharyland Corp. continues to be very much a part of this valuable program and to be one of the largest donors to the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley.
Agricultural research is another area in which Harry has been very much involved with. Currently, he is working with USDA scientists on an
experimental parasitic wasp project to rid Valley fields of devastating sweetpotato whitefly populations. He has worked with numerous seed and fertilizer companies conducting test plots in order to determine the value of such products as phosphate fertilizers and new seed varieties.
Harry is a man of keen intelligence and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. His strength lies in his integrity and leadership. He is a producer whose love of the earth and enjoyment of his work combine to epitomize the traditional values which embody our country’s agricultural legacy. He has taken the opportunities available to all and has become very successful in every endeavor he has undertaken. In doing so he has overcome such obstacles as poverty and discrimination. Harry and Machi, his wife of over 40 years, have stressed education and a work ethic in rearing their four children. All four children are college educated and very successful in their respective professions (three medical doctors and one CPA).
The Society recognizes Harry Shimotsu for his outstanding contribution to the horticuhural industry in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Texas; and for his dedication to improving the quality of human life