Jack Harris: A Legacy
Jack Harris was born on April 20, 1914 in Stanton, a small farming community in West Texas. His parents moved the family to El Centro, California in California’s Imperial Valley when Jack was a young child. His father, J. A. Harris had been in the cotton ginning business in Texas and established one of the first cotton gins in California in El Centro. The business there did well and J. A. expanded into the banking business, providing crop financing to farmers in the area. All was good for a few years, but the Colorado River water dried up and much money was then lost. Always looking for new opportunities, they then moved up to the Helm area in Western Fresno County to grow cotton there. That business did well for a while, but it had some hard times, and they then moved up to the Sacramento Valley to attempt to grow cotton there, which was unsuccessful due to lower temperatures and more rainfall than traditional cotton areas. While in that area, Jack graduated from Chico High School and went on to Cal Poly. He married Teresa McManus in 1934.
Always looking for new opportunities, Jack discovered there was open ground on the Westside of Fresno County that had never been in irrigation that could be leased reasonably. He then leased some and drilled a well and started farming in the current location of Harris Farms in 1937. The farm grew over the years with additional leased ground and a few purchases of land. In the 1940’s the farm economy got better with the demand created by World War II.
Crops grown were mainly cotton and barley with a few vegetables and melons. They even had some pigs that they fed. Produce was hauled by truck to the market, which was primarily the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. Field labor was scarce, mainly due to the War. There was a German prisoner of war camp about 5 miles away that did help some.
In the 1950’s the well water was getting deeper and it was obvious that some surface water needed to be imported into the Western San Joaquin Valley. A major effort was made to get both the state and federal government to work together to build dams and reservoirs and a pumping system was installed to get water pumped South from the Delta, about 100 miles North. There were a lot of starts and stops, but finally water deliveries started in the late 1960’s. This opened up the area to a wider variety of crops due to better water quality and a more dependable system. Harris was one of the first farms in the area to adapt to advancement of machine-harvestable processing tomatoes. It was also an early Westside adapter to almonds, which can also be mechanically harvested. They are now the most popular crop on the Westside, with the state now producing over 2 billion pounds a year.
Jack Harris had always been interested in the cattle business and built a feedlot just east of what is now I-5 in the 1960’s. It grew greatly and the company got into the beef processing business in the 1970’s; which has grown now to be Harris Ranch Beef Company, the largest fed cattle processing operation in the state.
Jack Harris died in 1981, and John Harris has owned and managed the operations since then. John married Carole Glotz in 1965. She was also from a local farming family, and like John, graduated from University of California at Davis in 1965.