Tailor Made for the Orchard

Gordy Sato is not your average farmer. Formerly a fashion retailer sales rep, he traded in his Dior for Bosc and turned farmer.

When a stranger on a flight back home to visit Oregon told him “You’re ready for a life change,” Sato realized he wanted to come home for good. “The next day, I called my boss and resigned. Then I called my father to say, ‘I’m coming back to the farm.’”

Farming was a learning experience, especially the first few years. “Given my marketing background, I’m naturally a people person, but it took me two years to figure out the art of pruning,” he chuckles. “My dad used to say, ‘Gordy doesn’t know anything about farming, but he knows how to throw a good party!’” Sato immersed himself in learning the mechanics of orchard management. Flat tires on an airblast sprayer in the dark, broken sprinkler valves and tumbles from ladders were just a few of the early mishaps, but learning every job was key in earning his staff’s respect, he says.

Farming runs in his blood. Gordy’s grandfather was among the many Japanese who immigrated to the Western United States in the early 1900s and took up pear farming. Today, Sato’s mother, Dorothy, still lives next door and handles the books. Ray Sato Orchards, named after his father, grows seven varieties of pears, including Anjou, Bartlett, Red Anjou, Bosc, Comice, Starkrimson, Concorde. Gordy recently planted a small block of a new variety, Gem, that unlike other varieties “you can eat right off the tree.”

“I never thought I’d end up here,” Sato explains, glancing back at his pristine home and out at the 160-acre orchard nestled in the valleys of Parkdale, Ore. “I’ve been exposed to a lot of people and ideas in my career,” he says, adding that his background feeds his passion and fresh thinking for the pear industry. Just a few years after becoming a board member for the grower/shipper association, he was asked to be president. “I even wore the pear mascot outfit!”

For Sato, it was a welcomed change of uniform.