20 Mar

Mark Sorenson

published on March 20, 2015 - 9:17 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

Mark Sorenson, President
Fresno County Farm Bureau

What we do: Farm raisins and blueberries. Own and operate mechanical raisin harvesting business.

Age: 55

Education: Immanuel High School

Family: Married to Kimberly for 30 years. Three daughters and two son-in-laws: Jace and Johannah White, Jeff and Elizabeth Jantzen and Olivia.

Can you share some of the history behind your farming operation, Mark?
My great-great-grandfather moved from Denmark to South Dakota to Selma in the late 1800s. His son, my great-grandfather, later moved to the Caruthers area and began farming raisins. In the 1980s, my wife and I began on our own farming adventure by purchasing our home ranch as well as my great-grandfather’s, which still has the original grapevines he planted over 95 years ago. We have slowly expanded our acreage by leasing and purchasing nearby ranches. In 1999, we began harvesting our raisins mechanically, which has since evolved into a custom mechanical harvesting business, Sorensen Harvesting.  
In 1997, we were able to once again diversify our operation by planting blueberries, which we continue to sell in farmers’ markets throughout the state.

What are the biggest challenges and opportunities to being a Fresno County farmer, Mark?
There are always many challenges to farming, but one key challenge would be finding and retaining qualified employees. I have been blessed with a solid core of employees on our farm and am now adding my son-in-laws to the operation, which has definitely assisted my workload. It gives me great hope for the future when I see young people eager to take on the challenges the farming industry brings. The opportunities are great here in Fresno County as it provides some of the best agricultural land and climate in the world. We can choose from over 400 crops that can grow in the soil types we have in our fertile valley.

What’s one thing you feel people should know about the local agricultural industry, Mark?
Fresno County farmers and ranchers are some of the most progressive and innovative in the world. In this county, more than 400 commercial crops are produced on an annual basis. Every $1 produced on the farm generates more than $3.50 in the local and regional economy; for every $1 billion in farm sales, there are 18,000 jobs created in the state. Agriculture is this Valley’s backbone.

Can you tell us about some of the boards you have served on and what you gained from that service, Mark?
This year marks my 28th year on the Caruthers Fair Board; 15 years of which have served 2 separate terms as president.  Additionally, in 1997, on the very same day, I was appointed to the Sun-Maid Board as well as the Alvina Elementary Charter School Board. Through the years, I have also served on the Peoples Church Council and Finance Committee and of course, the Fresno County Farm Bureau.
My serving experience has covered a broad variety of organizations — from a church, to a small county school, to the largest raisin packing facility in the world. I have gained first-hand knowledge that I would have never known by getting involved in these great organizations. Although I have learned much and have enjoyed working on all of these different boards, one of my most favorite experiences is being able to give back to my own community by serving on the Caruthers Fair Board.  Through serving on all of these boards, I have certainly learned a great deal about leadership and have gained valuable experience in what it takes to be a servant.  My experience in the California Ag Leadership Class XXIII in the early 1990s occurred at the perfect time to prepare me for these leadership roles.

What is special about the Veteran’s Memorial in Caruthers, Mark?
In 2000, the Caruthers Chamber of Commerce was approached by Chuck Monges, of Fresno’s Legion of Valor Museum, to discuss the possibility of a somehow honoring Jack Kelso, a Medal of Honor Recipient that was from Caruthers. He informed us that many states didn’t even have a Medal of Honor Recipient and that it would be nice to erect a flagpole in his honor.
We decided it would be nice to do more than just put up a flagpole! I was the chairman of a committee that was formed to explore the idea of building a memorial that would honor all veterans from Caruthers. We knew of a wall that had been put up during WWII naming all that had served, but after the war, it had been taken down.  
There was a photo of that wall, so we started with those original names and opened it up to the community to add names of anyone who had served from WWI to the present. The owner of Stockman’s Bank donated the land and we were able to start a fundraising campaign. The community of Caruthers began to rally around this project and donated nearly $100,000.
During the construction, we discovered another Medal of Honor Recipient, Joe Nishimoto, who was from our area. Today, these two recipients hold a special place on the wall along with over 1,000 names of men and women who have bravely served our country. The most special part of this project was seeing the look on people’s faces as they looked at their name on the wall for the first time, realizing that their service had not been forgotten. This was definitely the most rewarding community service project that I have ever been involved with.

You’re a student of World War II history. What fascinates you most about that time in history, Mark?
What fascinates me most about World War II is how everyone in our country was entirely devoted to winning the war. The generations since that time have never known what it was like to have gas rationings or production shortages. The entire country was devoted to total victory at all costs, bringing the people of this great country much closer together.
I also admire how we were able to conduct a war at total opposite ends of the globe with limited technology and communication. It saddens me that the politics of today have polarized our nation and we are not able to agree on much. Those that served in WWII also grew up during the Great Depression and certainly deserve the title of the Greatest Generation.

If you could meet any person from the present or the past, who would it be and why, Mark?
Picking one person would be difficult, but I would certainly love to meet President Abraham Lincoln. From what I understand, our founding fathers were aware that slavery was a serious problem but it was pushed aside as they dealt with fighting the Revolutionary War and establishing a new nation. It finally fell on the broad shoulders of Abraham Lincoln who was brave enough to face it head on. With the United States still being a young nation with such high ideals, the weight of leading a country with such strongly opposing sides had to be unbearable. I would love to be able to ask him about how he dealt with that unimaginable burden on a daily basis.

What was the best advice you ever received, Mark?
My dad once told me that if you treated people fairly and right, then things would go well for you. This seems to be another way of describing The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

What was your very first job and what did you learn from it, Mark?
My first job, at seven years old, was to irrigate 20 acres of vineyard. I remember my dad taking me to the local dry goods store to buy a pair of rubber boots. Although many times I had to get up before school to shovel furrows, I enjoyed having a job that I was responsible for and could see the result of my work through a growing crop. My dad never made me work on the farm, but I continued to work through my growing up years because I really wanted to. I also enjoyed the extra spending money at the end of the summer!  

What do you like to do in your spare time, Mark?
Although I don’t really have hobbies such as fishing or golfing, I have thoroughly enjoyed keeping up with the various activities of my three daughters over the years. They were all very active in sports in high school and my youngest is currently playing volleyball at Biola University. We are still spending a good deal of time traveling to watch her team. I also enjoy the time I spend serving on the different boards and committees that I am a part of.  Due to the busy nature of multiple farming seasons, I do enjoy the relaxing times spent at home or at the coast.

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