Harold McClarty: Honest Fruit
IN THE FIELD
Working in the field for the first 25 years of one’s life would push most people to seek comfort — a job indoors and free from the elements of the seasons. For Harold McClarty, this start in life led him to seek honest work and honest people.
He learned the meaning of honest work earning money while working in various jobs of field work to pay for his Bachelor’s degree. He learned the value of honest people when he attended college in an urban coastal area in California. Aligning with honest work and honest people has been like a compass for Harold.
Today, he is the Chief Executive Officer for one of the leading fresh fruit grower-shippers’ supplying customers all over the world with fresh grapes and stone fruit. Chances are, if you’ve eaten a grape in a restaurant, they were likely grown by HMC Farms. His company is the largest table grape supplier to food service outlets in the world.
Harold was born into a farming family and raised on the same farm his great-grandfather purchased in 1887. Yes, he was raised in a farming family but his story is far from typical where nothing was handed to him.
When the time came and he transitioned from field laborer to employer, he maintained a commitment to the values he learned in the fields.
“The difference is I’ve done it and I’ve had to do it, not just because dad told me to do it, but because my I had to make a living doing it,” Harold said.”I think that kind of a background gives you the experience to know what it is like to actually walk in those shoes and to see what its really like for people that have to make a living on an hourly wage.”
For Harold it was his means to survive.
“This is how I got my money. We didn’t get money from our parents,” Harold said about his mother and father who were commercial peach and grape farmers in the small farming town of Parlier.
Harold ultimately was able to purchase the family’s ranch from his dad in the 1980s. In 1987, he started a produce sales organization called HMC Farms.
“I went into this particular business (sales and marketing) because I thought it was the most advantageous — there was no limit to your growth,” Harold said adding that the business didn’t require capital to start.
With limited access to capital, Harold and a partner started selling fruit.
One could argue Harold’s insatiable appetite to learn everyday has been a critical aspect to his success, but his ambitions have never been about material possessions. When he graduated college he wanted to simply lead a richer, fuller life.
“The value of an education, and not in a traditional sense of an education, is about the stimulus that causes you to think the way you do. To this day, I still learn something new everyday,” Harold said.
He was the first in his family to graduate college. With a diploma in hand from UC Santa Cruz in the 1970s, he returned to the San Joaquin Valley knowing rural life was the right fit for him and he could get work.
Harold and a friend rented a home for $50 a month and worked various field jobs throughout the Central Valley. Harold maintained a frugal lifestyle and saved his money to travel and explore the world outside of California during the “off-season.”
“Until 25 years old, you have the most amount of freedom and least amount of responsibilities,” he said about the opportunity to travel.
Harold never felt that a full-time desk job was how a college degree was put to use; however, this wasn’t an easy message to deliver to his parents who were trying to put food on the table.
But Harold’s vision wasn’t about putting food on one table.
FRESH VS. PROCESSED
Harold also owns HMC Fresh, a sister business to HMC Farms. It is a year-round table grape program that sources grapes from his farms in California, Peru, Chile and Mexico. Table grapes are packed into small bunches or “de-stemmed” (loose berries) and then sold to food service outlets.
The program started out with the intent to give school kids a convenient option to eat fruit instead of processed snack, like a M&M.
Harold had his work cut out for him.
Fruit isn’t manufactured but the “fresh fruit” concept directly competed with manufactured food and this meant overcoming a well-known expectation: every piece of fruit (or grape, in this instance) should taste exactly the same.
So Harold turned it around, and focused on the element of surprise associated with eating fresh fruit.
“This isn’t manufactured, but isn’t that the exciting part, because you never know what you are going to get. You just know you are going to get something good tasting and good for you. We are bold enough to say that fresh fruits and vegetables can save the world because it makes you healthier,” Harold said.
He explained that an eating experience is just that, its an experience.
“We feel a responsibility to deliver healthy food to people. Why would you want anything else,” Harold said.
People have responded and the food service business has grown incrementally every year for HMC Fresh.
Harold has a sense of obligation to the people who live in the farming community where he and his family live.
He and his wife, Debbie, have purposefully sought out opportunities to strengthen their local community, about 20 miles outside of Fresno.
Debbie and Harold are a dynamic duo — both committed to their family and share a philosophy founded on hard work.
“She has made the philosophical direction a reality,” Harold said about Debbie.
One example is a donation they made a few years ago — $1 million to the local community college called Reedley College. Plans are underway to build a performing arts center which is generally reserved for urban areas.
Harold is excited about the project but its evident that isn’t about the building. He is excited about the people in the community who will have a place and reason to gather together.
Actions like this are done with an intent to be an example to their children. “I want them to know that we are lucky, we’ve been given a gift and we will always give back. Our philosophy is that you give back to your community because this community is what has allowed us to be successful. I am talking about the people in the community,” he said.
Harold’s drive can’t be mistaken for financial gain.
He remembers a family member asking him 20 years ago “how much money do you need,” and Harold responded that his drive has nothing to do with money which is why he feels strongly about giving back to the local community.
Harold’s grown-children, Jonathan and Chelsea, are part of the family business at HMC Farms. Just as important to the family business are their spouses who Harold described as “an equal” to his children and each has an important role in the current and future success at HMC Farms. Jonathan married Sarah, whose expertise is in accounting as a Certified Public Account, and Chelsea married Drew, who brings an engineering background.
“Our success is dependent on the different skills they collectively bring to our family business,” Harold said about the talent shared among the next generation.
Harold describes his children as brilliant, adding that this statement isn’t to brag or inflate their value. He is truly confident in the direction they will take HMC Farm’s into the future.
“I will have given them a little bit of a push to take these commodities as far as they are able to be taken,” Harold said.
Aside from being a family business, Harold describes farming as a lifestyle.
“It’s personal because it is a way of life,” Harold said.
He is referring to how a grower feels aligned with the land in terms of the seasonal ebb and flow.
“We’re tighter and closer to it,” Harold said.
Growers, like Harold, genuinely care for the health and well-being of their crops and not just in terms of an economic perspective.
“You are relying so much on variables (from too much to too little weather or water) that are out of your control. Every season is different and of the 40 seasons I’ve farmed, they are never the same. It’s exciting,” Harold said.
He compared it to a baseball game and how two games are never be exactly the same.
“Part of the fun, is that we are creating something by taking risks. It requires that we live off of our wits and take chances,” Harold said.
Harold shared how he has experienced three droughts in his lifetime, and the result has always been the same.
“We make it through. That’s what we do,” he said.
It doesn’t come without worry or concern, noting the reality that many employees and their families rely on a paycheck generated from the fruit crop.
Harold isn’t slowing down anytime soon. He has a business to improve.
“You have to always be trying to be better next year. You can’t rest or then you will be trying to catch up,” Harold said.
Want to learn more?
Visit: HMC FARMS