Jacob Samuel receives CFBF’s YF&R Achievement Award

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By Craig W. Anderson

Jacob “Jake” Samuel, a San Joaquin Farm Bureau farmer and board member received the Young Farmers & Ranchers Achievement Award at the 105th California Farm Bureau’s Annual Meeting held in Reno in conjunction with the California Young Farmers & Ranchers State Conference.

About the procedure of competing for the award, Samuel said, “I don’t know the logistics of the CAFB’s grading. However, I do know that it took into account leadership from Farm Bureau and Young Farmers & Ranchers and other organizations as well as demonstrated success from within my business.”

He had a 30 minute interview with four individuals from Farm Bureau “…that was not a second longer which is hard to do when there is so much I’d like to talk about.”

“This entire experience has been very interesting and exciting,” Samuel said. “I’m looking forward to the AFBF competition in January.”

“I’m absolutely thrilled by Jake’s award,” said SJFB Executive Director Andrew Genesci. “He’s a good guy and farmer. Whenever I talk with him I’m impressed by his knowledge and how he reflects what his family has accomplished.”

“I think he has a good chance to make the Top Ten at the AFBF’s Annual Meeting and I wouldn’t be surprise if he wins it all,” Genesci said.

A graduate of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and a Farmington resident, Samuel is a fourth-generation farmer in his family’s diversified operation and the oldest of four brothers. He commented, “I love being a part of my family business and what we are all building together is exciting. It’s hard at times, though, as we navigate the daily business operations but we set business aside when we have family dinners or sit at the Thanksgiving table.”

At Cal Poly he majored in agribusiness with a focus in farm management and a minor in fruit science. Samuel’s Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity membership and his experience on the Board of Directors of the Associated Student Body contributed to his business knowledge, he said. He also served on the fraternity’s Alumni Board of the Chi Chapter “where I learned a lot about leadership and how to work with different business leaders across the state and across all ages.”

Samuel is part-owner of Shade Tree Farming which he helped found in 2016. He also helps with administrative duties for the family-owned Samuel Farms and has assumed a vital marketing role as CEO for the family’s dried-fruit business, Sunrise Fresh.

“I’ve always wanted to be a farmer, but at a young age I never settled for following people,” Samuel explained. “There are things that people find out about later in life regarding what they are meant to be and do, and some never find that passion or ability. I’m not in the orchards as much now, as my brothers now do most of that, but I also watch market trends and analyze financials and try to strategize and place our companies in the right direction and place for success.”

“The cliché that working with family is both rewarding and challenging is very much true but I’m happy to be building what we are with my family,” Samuel said.

“We grow cherries, walnuts and almonds,” Samuel explained. “We custom nut harvest for others across San Joaquin County and Stanislaus County. The cherries and other fruits that don’t make the fresh market, we dry and process for finish food use across multiple categories.”

He commented that most of the state’s cherries are grown in San Joaquin County and “we purchase across the state and PNW [Pacific North West] and we get our blueberries from the county, pears from Sacramento County and apples locally and the PNW. In the future I intend to grow crops and harvest them for the dry yard.”

About the ongoing economic challenges, Samuel said, “Continuing success during this current economic time is a stretch. It’s been a very difficult couple of years. With the increase in our cultural inputs, to the lack of a labor force, it’s been difficult.”

He said, “I think the success comes in the fact that we’re still in business. We’ve had to tighten the belts more so this year than ever before, as banks tighten the ropes on lending, and interest rates increase and diesel is still over $5 a gallon during harvest.”

“Diversity is the biggest word here,” Samuel said. “We diversified into other products but also in other industries. We installed packing equipment to pack our own fruits into our own brand and others as well. Diversity has helped us keep the plant doors open when other sectors like food service, restaurants and exports declined by 30%.”

He noted that the family operation also directed significant resources to the ecommerce markets such as Amazon to sell their products on those platforms. “Today we are the No. 1 selling dried cherry and our other fruits rank highly in Amazon grocery.” That’s good news for the nearly 100 employees at the main facility and another plant “up north” along with “10 more at the ranch.”

Samuel said business today is “ever changing and I am confident and excited that my family business is positioned to continue growing the unsweetened dried fruits and increasing our farming operations. I do think that California ag also has a big advantage in the future as we are a driving force for policy and the economy.”

He added, “Our value added business fights food waste, and gets healthy unsweetened products to customers across the country and globe. People need healthy things to eat and California ag products are those foods they’ll be eating.”

Samuel and his wife, Khrista, will be heading to Salt Lake City Jan. 19 where Samuel will compete for national recognition. What he has learned from the award experience is both personal and business oriented. “YF&R exposed me to many relationships that have been valuable, not only in business but personally as well. Another point for YF&R is introducing me more fully into the political world.”

He recalled attending American Legion Boys State when in high school “and that got me thinking about government and how I can find myself situated in it. I don’t think I could be a politician but YF&R has got me to see that I can make a difference lobbying for things that I care about. I’ve now been to D.C. twice in the past three years with the International Fresh Produce Association to lobby for fresh produce and California Agriculture. A pretty cool experience that started with YF&R and visits with county and state governments and organizations.”

About what he, his family and their business have accomplished over the past decade-plus, Samuel described it thus: “Realizing what our capabilities are and seeing where we were and where we are today is really incredible.”

On the other hand…Samuel speaks wistfully, “But if I could drive a tractor all day, I would probably be content and happy.”

Spoken like a true farmer.

Jake will receive $4,500 in cash from sponsors and 250 hours of use of a Kubota tractor.