By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
MOORPARK — On a cool June gloom morning, Sen. Alex Padilla wasn’t in his usual coat and tie, but a blue flannel shirt, jeans, work gloves and kneepads. In the wide fields of Muranaka Farm in Moorpark, California’s junior senator started at 6:30 a.m. working in the Italian parsley, before moving to the radishes.
Looking intent, Padilla cut the radishes and placed them into green crates. Farmworkers outpaced the senator, quickly gathering the small bunches of bright red radishes.
“The radish crew is very specialized. It is very difficult to do,” observed Charles Muranaka, vice president of Muranaka Farm.
“I was invited by the UFW union to come spend a day working alongside the women and men who work on the fields each and every day to pay my respects,” Padilla said. “I’ve been advocating for farm workers for many years. I gained a deeper appreciation. I know the work is important, that it is essential. Now I can attest to how hard the work is.”
Immigration reform has been a key platform for Padilla, who is the first Latino to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety. He supports the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, passed in the House in March 2021, which would allow undocumented farm workers to earn the right to permanently stay in this country by continuing to labor in agriculture.
Muranaka Farm was selected for the senator’s working visit as part of UFW Foundation’s “Take Our Jobs” campaign for immigration reform.
The farm was founded by Minoru Muranaka and his wife, Matsue, who started as sharecroppers. Today their grandson, Charles Muranaka, is in charge of day-to-day operations.
“It’s wonderful that the senator took the time to come out and experience what our teams do every day. Certainly immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship are important issues and we’re grateful that the senator took the time to see us,” Muranaka said.
Muranaka Farm was selected because it is a union farm, employing 200 workers. As part of its efforts to support their workers, the farm, in conjunction with Ventura County Public Health, hosted COVID vaccination clinics in March 2021.
“Our farm requires a lot of labor. Our crops are hand-labored out so we need a lot of people to make this happen. Certainly getting more visibility helps, hopefully,” Muranaka said.
Among Muranaka Farm’s biggest clients is Sprouts, which has been a foundation donor and partner since 2016.
“Our bread-and-butter is the retail market. They want a consistent quality and price, they’re willing to pay for the quality and reliability,” Muranaka said.
During their lunch break, Padilla addressed the workers in Spanish and listened to the thoughts of Epimenio, who has worked on the farm for years. Muranaka later explained that many of the workers have been with the farm for decades, including some who recall working with his grandmother.
As a third-generation farmer, Muranaka said he hopes to continue the family’s legacy. The farm also is a supporter of the Valley Japanese Community Center and San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center.
“One of the things my father pushed hard was to have a strong understanding of the farm and all the opportunities provided to all of us,” he said. “He wanted to keep me rooted in the business. My boys are 14 and 12, and I’ve tried to do the same thing with them. If they have interest, I’m going to do everything I can to grow and evolve the business it has changed so much from even when I started.”
Padilla praised Muranaka Farm as an example of the American Dream.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’re hosted by Muranaka Farms, a third-generation family owned farm here in Moorpark. Not too far from SFV, where we live, and one of the few union farms in the region,” Padilla said. “I think given the nature of the work and how hard it is, the need to treat your employees well and keep them coming back is important for business
“What a beautiful story to be here on Muranaka Farm as Exhibit A of the American Dream realized, generation after generation, successful business and employer. It’s important to highlight these stories, particularly given the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes targeting the Asian community.”