By Tim Tesconi
Tito Sasaki, a Sonoma Valley grape grower, scientist and businessman, is the new president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, the county’s oldest, largest and most influential agricultural organization.
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.