March 4, 2015

Blythe’s Soon To Be Centenarian Still “Growing” Strong

Nish Noroian

Nish Noroian Farms

Blythe, CA

Member Since 1975

On July 9, 2015, Nish Noroian, the patriarch of Nish Noroian Farms, in Blythe, Calif. turns 100.  This member profile piece highlights the 80-plus years he has spent in agriculture.  Nish’s daughter Nisha recently gave an interview about her family’s farming history and about her dad.  Although a partner in the Arizona law firm Poulton and Noroian, Nisha still plays a vital role at Nish Noroian Farms as an assistant farm manager.  The Poulton and Noroian law firm is also a member of the Western Growers Ag Legal Network, representing small businesses on employment issues and in civil litigation.

Family History: Nish Noroian’s parents, Nazaret and Shooshan, were both born in Armenia and fled their home country due to persecution. Nazaret arrived in Boston when he was 18 in 1897.  After a year of working in a factory, he moved to Fresno where, among other things, he milked cows at the county hospital.  Nazaret left Fresno and eventually ended up in Reedley, Calif., in 1906.  There he bought 40 acres of grape vineyards and met his future wife, who arrived separately in Reedley from Armenia the same year.

Nish grew up in Reedley working in the family’s vineyard during the Great Depression.  As with most people who experienced it, the Depression had a profound and lasting effect on the young Noroian.  “My grandfather instilled in my dad the mentality that if you can’t afford something, you don’t buy it,” Nisha said. “He has never bought anything on credit his whole life.”  She relayed a story that when he was growing up, he saved enough money to buy a car; but instead of buying one from a dealer, he took a bus to Detroit and bought one there instead.

The experience of the Depression, combined with the values instilled in him by his family, made Nish a tireless worker with a work ethic Nisha describes as “workaholic.”  But some youthful memories are not meant to be happily remembered.  “Since then, he never has grown a grape in his life.  He wanted to get away from that,” Nisha says.

So while in high school in the early 1930s, Nish started growing his own watermelons and he hired the entire football team to work for him.  When he had the time, he would double as a shipper and use the truck he bought to deliver produce to San Jose, Fresno, Los Angeles and Reno.  It was a lot of hard work, but he was able to make and save money.  “He didn’t necessarily want to be a farmer, but it was just something that kind of happened,” Nisha explains.

Business was booming when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941.  At 26 years of age, Nish immediately enlisted in the Army Air Corps.  He wanted to be pilot, but his eyesight was not good enough.  He was never deployed overseas, but was instead stationed in Louisiana where he trained Army Air Corps crews.  He rose to the rank of master sergeant and served from January 20, 1942, until November 28, 1945.

Service to his country came at a price.  Prior to Pearl Harbor, Nish had saved enough money to go to college and attend law school at Stanford.  The bombs that rained down that day, not only changed the lives of the thousands that were killed and injured, but they also changed the life of Nish Noroian.  Though he had not planned to be a farmer, the war redirected him back to that occupation.  Nisha said his service time is something he is very proud of and remains important to him to this day.

Move to Blythe: Once his time in the service ended, Nish started growing produce in the Reedley area again.  In 1947, he started to pay people to grow crops.  However, the man he hired to grow watermelons for him in Blythe skipped town for unknown reasons, leaving Nish with a crop that needed to be harvested.  Having invested a lot of money in the ground and not wanting to lose the melons, Nish went to Blythe in the summer of 1947 for the harvest.  Once he was there, he ended up staying.  At the time, Blythe was a perfect place to grow watermelons.

Currently the company employs five full time employees and, in peak season, about 30 farm laborers.  Although he grew watermelons most of his life (as well as cantaloupe and other leafy greens), Noroian stopped growing his favorite melon about three years ago.  The company now grows banana squash, cotton, alfalfa and wheat in the north end of the valley on the approximately 800 acres it owns—a significant decrease from years past when he also leased land for his growing operation.

Involvement with the Company:  As the owner/founder of the 68 year-old company, Nish Noroian still remains heavily involved in the day-to-day operations.  Every morning, he makes the rounds on the farm with his wife, Linda, checking the fields and getting an update from the foreman about the farm’s activities before he heads back to the office for the rest of the day.  Though Linda holds the informal title of operations manager, Nish’s counsel is sought often by the farm’s employees, including the farm manager who meets with him daily to brief him about what’s happening.

Nisha Noroian says that her father has no plans to retire or slow down anytime soon.  Despite his age, working every day helps him thrive.  She said his mother’s father lived to be 104 and he was planting a peach orchard when he was 100.  “So longevity runs in the family,” Nisha said. “Nothing seems to slow him down.”

Toward the end of last year, over a three-month period, he had four different heart procedures.  Nisha recalls, “His last procedure was on a Friday, he was released from hospital on Sunday, and was back to work on Monday.  He’s a hard worker.”

Nisha recalls further, “The only time I ever saw my dad relax was when he was at the Balboa Bay Club.  He was the club’s 50th member.  Having massages, eating out and being close to the water can make anyone relax.”

Company’s Biggest Issues: Like nearly every other grower in the west, Nish Noroian’s two biggest issues are water and labor.  But for someone who originally settled in Blythe because it had the first water rights to the Colorado River, water is the most important issue.  Without that, nothing else happens. “It’s kind of funny,” Nisha says, “because back then, that was the reason he wanted to stay (in Blythe), and now it’s even a bigger reason for wanting to be there.”

Short-term water transfers have been done previously in Blythe, including by Nish, but never would he consider doing long-term deals that would send the water to Los Angeles.  He views long-term water transfers as bad for the local farm economy.  Nisha pointedly relays her father’s fears saying, “If a third of the valley dries up, then what is everyone going to do?”

Nisha also says that her father has a level head when it comes to immigration.  He’ll be the first to tell you that no one wants to do the work.  “We need those people.”  Though, due to the size of their current operation and the location of the farm, labor is no longer much of an issue for the company.

Community Involvement: For Nish Noroian, a life of farming would be incomplete without also giving back to the community.  After all, such generosity was instilled in him by his parents who also had a history of being generous and hard-working.  A symbol of that generosity still stands today.  Nish’s dad, Nazaret, built the first Armenian church in Reedley called the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Following in his parent’s footsteps, Noroian helped establish the Cotton Gin in Blythe.  It was a big deal for the folks in the area because it meant jobs.  Early on, there had been talk about building it in Parker, Ariz., and that would have been to the detriment of the farmers in Blythe since they would have had to transport everything there.  Instead, it was decided to have the Gin built in Blythe and Nish was instrumental in getting that done.  Now everyone who grows cotton in that region comes to Blythe to get their cotton ginned.  He served as the Cotton Gin’s treasurer for more than 20 years and has also been on its board since the early 1980s.  He recently received an award for his many years of service.

Nish also often gives back to the community by sponsoring local baseball teams and by donating produce for various events.  He helps promote the fair in Blythe by purchasing animals from 4-H kids and is known in the community as someone people can go to if they need something.  His involvement in politics was also a way of giving back to the community as it was important for him to try to get good candidates elected.  He served on California’s Republican State Central Committee and was close with several California governors, including Ronald Reagan.  His involvement in politics earned him the title around the state as “Mr. Republican.”

That same generous mentality translates to his own family.  As the oldest sibling, he put two of his four sisters through college.  He also insisted that, regardless of their involvement on the farm and in agriculture, both of his daughters needed to have an education so that they had something to fall back on because of the uncertainty in the industry.  His youngest daughter Nikki is finishing pharmacy school and is awaiting placement.

Additionally, Nisha says, in general, Nish is a proud husband and father and was an early supporter of women.  In many situations he feels women are smarter than men and are better equipped to do some things than men are.  It’s no wonder why Nisha proudly boasts, “My dad is my hero.”

Involvement with WG: Nish Noroian Farms has been a Western Growers’ member since 1975.  Just like with farming, politics and the community, Nish’s work with Western Growers also has been prolific.  According to Nisha, his political involvement was instrumental in establishing the Western Growers Political Action Committee.  Though his direct involvement with Western Growers has diminished over the years, his company still relies on Western Growers’ insurance and legal services, as well as the association’s government affairs office to help operate his business.  As Nisha succinctly puts it, “He loves Western Growers.  It’s his favorite organization.”