Cathie Anderson

Farmer, manager, welder, teacher: UC Davis grad continually evolves his ag roots

Sacramento’s Andy Johas stands in one of his vineyards in Clarksburg on Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, in Sacramento, Calif. Johas started his career as an ag educator, then went into farm banking and farmland management. At one time, he ran one of the 10 largest farm management companies in the nation. Now he primarily focuses on growing his own cherries and wine grapes on land in the Central Valley and the Bay Area.
Sacramento’s Andy Johas stands in one of his vineyards in Clarksburg on Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, in Sacramento, Calif. Johas started his career as an ag educator, then went into farm banking and farmland management. At one time, he ran one of the 10 largest farm management companies in the nation. Now he primarily focuses on growing his own cherries and wine grapes on land in the Central Valley and the Bay Area.

Native Sacramentan Andy Johas has taught welding, animal science, construction and business finance, but he also could teach plenty of life lessons about making your own opportunities and delivering what people want.

These days, Johas grows wine grapes in Walnut Grove, Lodi and Clarksburg, plus an orchard of bing and Rainier cherries. All told, he has 475 acres of his own. He manages 5,000 to 6,000 acres of farmland for real estate investors. And he invests in properties himself: two office buildings and a shopping center.

The 66-year-old Johas describes all this as downsizing his business.

“At one time, my company managed 480,000 acres of farmland,” he explained. “I was the ninth-largest farm-management company in the nation. I got up that high … even though I did virtually no advertising. It was all word-of-mouth.”

Johas didn’t start out managing farmland. Initially, he went to college to become a pharmacist, but after taking a couple of classes, he said, he knew his heart wasn’t there. He wanted to be a teacher, and agriculture education was where the jobs were when he graduated in the 1970s.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education and a master’s in education from UC Davis, and in 1972, he became the vocational agriculture instructor at Delta High School in Clarksburg.

He still sounds like the proud teacher as he talks about how several students placed at the California State Fair and how another won a public speaking contest. Then he reels off the names and occupations of a dozen or so students, who include school administrators, retailers, truck drivers and, yes, even farmers.

While at Delta High, Johas created an advisory board of farmers, people who could tell him how to better prepare his students and who could advise them on classroom projects. But he was also careful to ask those advisers how he could help them.

“They would tell me that they had farmworkers who didn’t know how to weld or do other things that I was teaching,” Johas said. “They wanted their guys to have more skills and abilities.”

Johas’ predecessor at Delta was teaching at a nearby junior college, so Johas approached him with the idea of creating college-level night courses that Johas could teach from his well-equipped classroom at Delta. He started with a basic welding class but soon added an advanced one at the request of farmers. From there, college administrators asked him to teach animal science and construction courses.

One day, Johas said got a call out of the blue from developer Angelo Tsakopoulos. He asked: “Do you know how to manage farmland?”

Johas’ father, Jim Johas, had invested with Tsakopoulos and knew the developer was looking for someone trustworthy to manage farmland he was acquiring until ready to develop it. This was 1974, Johas said, when large swaths of Sacramento’s Pocket and Elk Grove’s Laguna neighborhoods were still being farmed.

Tsakopoulos contracted with Johas to manage the land, and as he proved himself to be a trusted, knowledgeable agricultural manager who always collected the rent, other developers and investors began knocking on his door.

The contracts were becoming a nice side business, Johas said, but he wanted to further improve upon his teaching salary. In 1979, he became a banker with Woodland Farm Credit. His territory was the Delta region, where he found ready customers among the farmers who had asked him to train their workers.

Johas said he expanded his employer’s Delta portfolio to $14 million from $9 million in just one year. His success also earned him a gig teaching business and consumer finance at UC Davis, his alma mater.

Johas spent five years in farm banking before the industry was hit by downsizing. Fortunately, Johas said, he had continued to cultivate his farm-management business and also worked for farmers as a financial consultant. So he opened his own business, Johas & Associates.

“I started managing more and more property, and in ’86, I was given an opportunity to manage a vineyard,” Johas said. “Angelo Tsakopoulos bought a vineyard from Hughes Aircraft out on Calvine Road. It was the biggest vineyard in Sacramento County at the time … We made it extremely successful.”

Johas continued to expand his company to include a labor division, a land-management division, a grape harvesting business, an appraisal unit, a vineyard supply unit and more.

In 2007, he began selling off assets and downsizing his company. The teacher-turned-farm-manager has been generous with the wealth he’s amassed, donating $1 million to the expansion of the campus for Sacramento’s Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 600 Alhambra Blvd., in memory of his parents, Jim and Dolly Johas.

“I’ve gotten to do some things and see some things that the average person will never see or do because I have an agricultural background,” Johas said. “I’ve seen hand-dug wells. I’ve managed property that had stagecoach stations.”

And every once in a while, the boss gets to amaze one of his farmhands with welding lessons.

Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.

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