September 1, 2015

Crawford Transitions Storied Firm

The Harold Crawford Company

Bakersfield, California

Member Since 1978


Harold Crawford has been an integral part of the Southern San Joaquin Valley produce industry since he moved the headquarters of his Northwest firm to Bakersfield 55 years ago.

Today he still comes into the Bakersfield office on a regular basis and is chairman of the board of the company, but, in fact, he sold the firm to his partners as of January 1 of this year and has basically hung up his boots after a 69-year diverse produce career.

His company’s roots actually predate him as his father, Wesley Crawford, founded The Mutual Fruit and Produce Co, in Tacoma, WA, in 1935.  After selling that firm in 1948, he founded the Wesley Crawford and Son Company the same year.  Harold was the son in that firm which specialized in repacking tomatoes and carrots.  Fresh from achieving a degree at Seattle Pacific University, Harold joined his dad with the goal of learning the produce industry from the ground up.  Unfortunately, baptism by fire was a more apt description as his father passed away in 1950, and the 23-year-old Harold had to take over as president and CEO.

When the company was founded, Wesley put it in the name of the Seattle Pacific University Foundation and pledged that all profits would go to that Christian college.  In fact, over the years those profits were used to build the Crawford Music Building as well as the president’s home.

In 1960, Harold bought the company back from Seattle Pacific for $1, which was the amount his father left him in his will, and moved the firm to Bakersfield.  He changed the name to Gro-Pak Inc. and opened Kern County’s first carrot packaging shed.  “We started the carrot industry in Bakersfield,” he said.  “I was here before Bolthouse and before Grimmway.”

He picked Bakersfield because the weather was right, and both water and land were plentiful.  “We were first to machine harvest carrots for the fresh market,” Crawford said.  “And the first to hydro-cool carrots and the first to have my own ice machine.”

At the time, Holtville in California’s desert was the state’s carrot capital and Crawford recalls that the desert growers and shippers thought he didn’t know what he was doing.  He proved them wrong, and in 1969 Crawford sold his thriving business to Belridge Packing Company and stayed on as sales manager.  In fact, he remained with Belridge for most of the next decade.

By 1978, he was ready to go out on his own once again and the Harold Crawford Co. was formed as a brokerage for retailers and wholesalers around the country.  The firm gradually built up its business and had many key accounts, including buying for the well-known Oregon-based Fred Meyer chain for 22 years until Kroger bought them out.  Crawford’s two sons, Greg and Bryan, were an important part of the company for many years and were integral to its growth.  They chose to leave the company at that time and start their own firms.

In 1995, Crawford formed Harvest Crown Co. Inc. to specialize in the importing of Hawaiian, Thai and Chinese ginger to the United States and Europe.  Over the years, Harvest Crown expanded its product line and has become a full line produce procurement business as well as a marketer of both domestic and off-shore crops.  It prides itself on its meticulous inspections and evaluations of the many crops it purchases for its customers.

In 2007, with an eye toward the future and a succession plan, Harold took on several partners.  In 2012, current CEO Keith Horder joined that team.  In January of this year, the founder of the firm sold his remaining interest to his three partners: Horder, COO Michael Hearn and CFO Celynn Womack.  “We put the plan in place and executed it this January,” said Crawford.  “I am extremely happy that I have left the company in their very capable hands.”

Crawford is equally happy that the change in ownership has not unfavorably impacted the firm’s 4X Trading Member status bestowed on the company 32 years ago by The Blue Book.  Crawford and Horder told WG&S that the new ownership has been operating the firm in the same manner as Crawford did all those years so it was able to keep the rating.  Crawford is also glad the company will continue with the strong moral ethics that it was built upon from the very start.

“It has been a seamless transition,” said Horder.  “Nothing has changed.  We are operating it exactly as it was before.”  The management team still appreciates input from Crawford on a regular basis.

The Harold Crawford Company maintains its headquarters office in Bakersfield, which is also the same home base for Harvest Crown.  In addition, the company has eight satellite offices stretching from Miami in the Southeast to Yakima in the Northwest and many points in between.

Crawford has been a member of Western Growers for 37 years and he said the connection was extremely helpful in the building of his business.  From transportation to PACA representation, he used many WG’s services along the way to his advantage. As Crawford looks back on his seven decades in the business, he credits his faith in God with helping him traverse the many challenges and changes that he faced over the years.