Neil Nagata is a third-generation Japanese-American farmer in northern San Diego County, Calif., whose claims to fame extends beyond climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and running with the bulls in Spain. Nagata was named Farmer of the Year in part for his efforts to raise scholarship funds for the children of farmworkers, advocate for local agriculture, and open export markets for California strawberries in China.
The Oceanside, Calif. farmer was chairman of the California Strawberry Commission in 2008 when it became clear that China wanted strawberries for their Olympic athletes during the summer games in Beijing. Though China produces strawberries for domestic consumption, their season would be over by the time the games took place, and a survey of Chinese athletes ahead of the games suggested they wanted them.
Rick Tomlinson, president of the California Strawberry Commission, was on staff with the commission at the time, though he was not the organization’s chief executive. As one of several presenters who lauded Nagata during the annual San Diego County Farm Bureau’s Farmer of the Year Banquet, Tomlinson credited him with encouraging Chinese officials to import California strawberries.
China had never imported strawberries but needed them for the Olympics, and California had a year-round supply of them.
Tomlinson said Nagata represented the California industry and took on trade missions to China to assure officials there that the fruit coming from California would meet their requirements. That relationship continues today as California is the only U.S. state able to export strawberries to China under a special permit, according to Tomlinson.
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