Tito Sasaki, a Sonoma Valley grape grower, scientist and businessman, is the president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, the county’s oldest, largest and most influential agricultural organization. As president, Tito authors a monthly column in the Sonoma-Marin Farm News. Below you will find his past articles.
Monthly Column Archive
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Tell Me, Sir, Whose Dog Are You?
Alexander Pope, an eighteenth-century English poet, may be best known for his proverbs such as “To err is human…” and “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” But my favorite is what he inscribed on the collar of the dog he gave to a prince. It read, “I am His Highness’ dog at Kew. Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?”
Time to Take a Big Step Into Groundwater
"If the grass is greener on the other side, you can bet their water bill is higher.” This will be painfully true soon. On January 1 the Sustainable Groundwater Manage-ment Act of 2014 will take effect. Under the new law, you will likely have to pay fees for having wells, to measure and report how much water you pump, get another bill for it, and to stop pumping after reaching a limit, or else you pay a hefty penalty.
The Riparian Riddle
In August 28, the Sonoma County Planning Commission
voted to send the new Riparian Corridors zoning code amendments to the Board of Supervisors for adoption, with a 4-1 vote. The regulations will cover some 3,200 miles of streams in the county, setting aside 200 foot, 100 foot or 50 foot setbacks on both sides of the banks depending on the locations of the streams.
The Hidden Danger of Crises
"Never let a crisis go to waste” is a creed held by many politicians. When there is a crisis, there is a flurry of legislation that wouldn’t have passed in normal times. The current drought and groundwater crisis made it easy for the Sustainable Groundwater Management Bill (AB 1739-Dckinson/SB 1168-Pavley) to pass committees. By the time you read this article you will know if the bill passed both Houses, potentially giving the State the ultimate authority in deciding if and how much water you can pump from your wells.
P3, Public-Private Partnership
California is under siege of drought. Emergency regulations are popping up almost daily. Yet, legislators, at this time of writing, still haven’t agreed on a water bond to put on the November ballot.
Love Thy Neighbor, and Prosper
Last month the Ag Commissioner presented to the Board of Supervisors the 2013 Crop Report. Winegrapes held the leading position among the county’s numerous crops. Noteworthy was that ornamental plants, Christmas trees, and cut flowers showed the highest percentage gains from the previous year: 27%, 31%, and 46%, respectively. These nursery businesses cater mainly to urban and suburban clients within our county or region. The emerging picture may be that we are developing into a successful metropolitan agricultural economy.
Russia’s Deep Wound
Like a phoenix reborn from its own ashes, Russia soars again over its prey. President Putin is basking in the glory of being a bad boy who defied the world over Crimea. We can expect more mischief to follow. Expelling Russia out of the G8 or imposing economic sanctions will have little effect on him or Russia. Why?
The Right Way, the Wrong Way, the Army Way
Last month I wrote about the survival of man and mankind. Agriculture will survive as long as the human race lives on. But there is no guaranty that my farm will survive. Sonoma County, or even California, could lose its agriculture to foreign competition. It is “survival of the fittest” within agriculture.
Of Food and Sex
Survival is the very basic drive in our life, both individually and collectively. To survive we need food; for human species to continue we need sex. So, we are doomed to grapple with food and sex. Luckily we are expert in both subjects.
Heads You Lose; Hearts You Win
"Rights are losing their power in American politics,” reported the venerable British journal, The Economist, in its recent issue. It went on to say, “Arguments rooted in abstract principle are increasingly trumped by fuzzier appeal to empathy and fairness. If (this trend) proves durable, politics will feel very different for partisans of Left and Right.
Can We Manage Groundwater Management?
Statewide, the persistent drought has been depleting reservoirs and streams. As the surface water supply dwindles, more demand is put on groundwater, and now the crisis is reaching there, too. Government may step in anytime to take control of your wells.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love GMO
Rumors have been circulating that a new initiative is about to surface that will ban Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) in Sonoma County. A narrative similar in style opens the 1963 epic film, “Dr. Strangelove; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” The film was a hilarious satire of the nuclear super-powers run amok.
Re-think Habitat Regulations
I remember when I was a young student in London, the stain I used to get on my shirt was black soot. Up to the 1950s, all buildings in my neighborhood were heated by coal-fired steam. In many industrial areas, soot from factories was so pervasive that the tree bark turned black.
The Importance of being Non-Essential
On October 1, many Federal workers had to go home early because of government shutdown. Who should stay and who should be sent home depended on whether the work they were performing was essential or non-essential. As a consequence, EPA had to furlough 94% of its employees because they were found to be non-essential.
Learning from Fishermen
You may think fishermen are our poor brothers who still hunt for wild fish in the open sea while we farmers grew out of hunter-gatherer life ten thousand years ago by cultivating plants and domesticating animals. Right? Wrong!
Climate Change: a yellow alert?
Whether you like it or not, climate change is a political reality. We already live under many regulations intended to reduce greenhouse gases that are thought to be the major cause of global warming.
Re-uniting Ag Industries
AG UNITE was the banner under which some 600 people rallied in Chico on June 12. It was organized by the County Farm Bureaus of Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Shasta, Tehama, and Yuba/Sutter. It aimed at raising funds for Farm PAC and Ag Unite Legal Fund.
Wonders of Water
"Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” Mark Twain was right. When we talk about water, it is always against the background of who gets how much of it. When we fight over something, may it be for a territory or a girlfriend, we often neglect to appreciate the beauty of the object we are fighting for.
New Frontier of Agricultural Economics
The market value of farm land is based on the profitability of the produce it can yield. Land suitable for higher profit crops like wine grapes thus commands a higher price than the same acre of land suitable only for grazing. However, all agricultural lands provide environmental services such as retention and filtration of rainwater, carbon sequestration, wildfire control, wildlife habitat, and open space.
Doomsday was Here
Two centuries ago when the world population was barely one billion, English scholar Thomas Malthus said that the exponential population growth is unsustainable because of the finite resources we have with which to feed people; it would eventually lead to war, famine, pestilence and death.
Securing a Dependable Farm Labor
How can we secure a dependable supply of farm labor? That was the question in the mind of some thirty participants at the Agricultural Labor Roundtable held in late January at the Agricultural Commissioner’s office in Santa Rosa. The prospect of the immigration law reform is murky. The current H2A program has merits but is costly, according to speaker Steve Dutton, Farm Bureau director, whose ranch employs over 70 workers with H2A visas.
So God Made a Farmer
This years’ Crab Feed, officially called the 24th Annual Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest, was a resounding success. Over 1,300 of us came to this annual event to renew our bond and enjoy food and drinks. Next day, unfortunately, we lost the Super Bowl. However, we gained even more friends through the 2-minute spot on TV, “So God Made a Farmer".
Farm Bureau Committees's
At Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Annual Great Sonoma Crab & Wine Fest you may have seen our board of directors prepare tables, serve wine and clean-up after the event. Even though these chores are important for us, the main tasks of our directors are to set policies and participate in the activities that are designed to help our members.
The White House has a New Tenant
Every four years in January, the White House has a new tenant, or a recycled one. Every two years in January, Sonoma County Farm Bureau has a new president. No recycling here. Our outstanding past presidents, Joe Pozzi, Bob Meulrath, Doug Beretta, Mike Strunk, Ray Mulas, just to name a few, have all graciously passed the baton to the next when their two-year term was out.
Tito Sasaki Takes the Reins as President of Sonoma County Farm Bureau
Sasaki, who is 74, succeeds Joe Pozzi, a Valley Ford livestock rancher, as president of Farm Bureau, a non-profit, grassroots organization that has represented the interests of the county’s farmers and ranchers for 95 years.
Sasaki has served as a Farm Bureau director for the last 10 years. He held all of the offices on Farm Bureau’s board of directors before being elected president by fellow directors.
Other officers are John Azevedo, first vice president; Steve Dutton of Dutton Ranches in Sebastopol, second vice president; and John Bidia, vineyard manager at Korbel in Guerneville, treasurer.
Sasaki and his wife Janet Sasaki own and operate a 50 acre ranch, producing pinot noir wine grapes and pears. Part of their property is leased for cattle grazing. The Sasakis joined Sonoma County Farm Bureau in 1985 after buying their ranch in the community of Schellville and embarking on an ambitious program to revive a neglected vineyard.
“With the help of Farm Bureau, we rebuilt the vineyard into a profitable business,” said Sasaki.
In addition to running Sasaki Vineyards with his wife, Sasaki is president of Quantum Mechanics Corp., a Sonoma-based company that designs, fabricates and tests instruments and equipment for high-energy physics and aerospace.
Sasaki said soon after moving to Sonoma County he came to realize the tremendous value of Farm Bureau and its crucial role in representing farmers’ interests, protecting property rights and preserving agriculture for future generations. Farm Bureau, he said, provides the structure for farmers to work together to tackle important issues.
“An organized action is sometimes more effective than individual actions,” said Sasaki. “As a united voice of its members, Farm Bureau yields a strong impact on the local political process. We also use our collective bargaining power to get better prices for our members on fuels, insurance premiums, farm equipment and supplies.”
Sasaki said Farm Bureau is the county’s leader in educating urban school children, government leaders and the general citizenry about agriculture and farmers’ needs at a time when most people have no direct connection to farming and food production.
“Educational support is area in which Farm Bureau is making a great contribution,” said Sasaki. “Farm Bureau is committed to helping tomorrow's farmers and ranchers in Sonoma County.”
Additionally, he said, Farm Bureau serves as ready source of information on agriculture. Major news about Sonoma County agriculture is reported in the organization’s Sonoma-Marin Farm News, on the Sonoma County Farm Bureau website and in the California Farm Bureau Federation's Ag Alert.
Sasaki said as president he will continue the excellent work done by his predecessors including Joe Pozzi, Bob Muelrath, Doug Beretta and Mike Strunk.
“With my fellow Farm Bureau directors and staff, I want to be part of a team to make the organization more useful, dependable, and valuable to its members,” said Sasaki.
Sasaki said farmers and ranchers are facing many issues and Farm Bureau is ready to help.
“Survival, growth, and freedom are what everyone strives for. It's not always easy to attain any of them when our political, socio-economic, and technological realities are rapidly changing,” said Sasaki. “We have to be vigilant and face the changes. One problem is that most agricultural activities take time - often years - to change, as in the case of replanting an orchard. The need to act fast is further hampered by increasingly onerous regulations. We not only have to think constantly what to do next but also how to achieve it in time.”
Sasaki said the challenge for the farming industry is that Sonoma County is located at the northern end of the San Francisco Bay Area, a huge urban region with millions of residents.
“Here the social values and politics are decidedly urban. Sonoma County so far has managed to preserve its rural values and characters - at least in the unincorporated areas - thanks largely to the leadership of the County Board of Supervisors,” said Sasaki.
But he said urban pressure is growing. “Unless we find a way of peaceful co-existence in every front, mostly in the environmental regulations and projects, we may be forced to surrender,” said Sasaki. “This is an area where Farm Bureau can act effectively representing our present and future members as long as we get their hearty support.”
Sasaki was born in Tokyo, Japan, the son of a lawyer. Following six years of high school at a seminary run by German Jesuits, he studied mechanical engineering at a national university in Japan. He then earned a degree in industrial design at the Royal College of Art in London followed by an advanced degree in Ekistics from the Athens Technological Institute in Greece. He did post graduate studies at the Institute of Traffic and Transportation Engineering at U.C. Berkeley and oceanography at the Scripps Institute at UC San Diego.
Sasaki worked as a designer for the London County Council Architects Department, as a senior researcher in economics and engineering at the Institut Battelle in Geneva, Switzerland, a planner for the City of San Diego, project engineer for the Marin County Transit District, chief of planning and research for the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District and president of Visio International Inc., a San Francisco company that does construction management of bridges and buildings in the Midwest and Middle East.
Tito and Janet Sasaki have one daughter, Heather Letzring of San Diego and two granddaughters, Erica and Amanda.