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Harbhajan Singh Samra


Harbhajan Singh Samra, came to dominate okra farming in record time. He arrived in California with an M.A. in economics in 1985. What drew him? "Friends convinced me. I listened to their stories and I thought, let me make my own story." He began supplying produce to Indian restaurants and stores in the days when tinda, methi and moolee were hard to come by. He sold produce out of the back of his pickup truck. Later he opened a stall in the downtown Los Angeles 7th Street produce market. "You have to find your own niche. It's hard in the beginning to start from scratch, but once you create something, you have the confidence," he says.

After 10 years of building his business, the next step was growing his own produce. His first okra crop, planted in 1994, failed. There were serious setbacks. Debts caused him to lose his farm, but he recovered.

Harbhajan bought several hundred acres near Indio in Southern California. Now Samra Produce & Farms, which farms about 120 hectares, has customers for Indian vegetables throughout the United States, Canada and Britain.

According to a 2001 New York Times report, Samra's annual turnover exceeds $10 million, although he declines to be specific. He credits the American system for helping him succeed. "If you are determined, you can do anything in the world. But in some places in the world it is rough, and in others it is smooth. In America you can do things smoothly," he says. "But you have to work for it."


  • Okra King of California

    Harbhajan Singh Samra with a farming background and an MA degree in economics migrated to California and decided to try his luck producing vegetables for the sizeable Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities settled there. Luck favoured him. He started with Indian bhindi (okra) in 1991. It was an instant success. He added baigan (aubergine), tinda, gaver, methi, palval and moolee (long white radish). Today his 200-acre farm in Indio (California) has an annual turnover of $ 12 million. Starting from scratch 11 years ago, he is a millionaire, and known as the Okra King of California.

    It was not a windfall; Samra tested different soils, had many setbacks before he was able to produce high-quality vegetables of Indian origin. He now exports his produce to Canada and European countries, where there are Asian communities. He is not resting on his laurels and enjoying his well-earned opulence; he is on to producing Indian fruit on California soil. Next year he plans to plant different varieties of Indian mangoes, ber (zizyphus), jamun and jimikand. He will have to wait a few years before they yield fruit. He can afford to wait and hopefully become a billionaire. He is a family man and lives with his Indian wife and seven-year-old son.

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