GET TO KNOW A FARMER BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!
I met a dirt farmer last week. He was in his 80’s and told me he was thinking about retiring. That’s right; he was still working his land, but said he might be ready to stop soon if he can find someone to take over his job. His story is worth knowing if you care about where your food comes from.
This man’s parents were Spanish immigrants who ended up in Central Valley, CA where more than 230 crops are grown on less than 1 percent of US farmland. Although the fertile soil provided them with a livelihood, they didn’t want their children to be farmers. So when Tony was born his parents decided he should be a dentist!
Tony did work the land while attending school and found he enjoyed the hard labor and long hours it demanded. Then while in college a farmer he had worked for was in an accident and asked Tony if he would bring his crop to market. Without hesitating, Tony left school to help the man. When the farmer realized he would never be able to run his farm again, he and his wife offered it to Tony since they had no children. Again, without hesitating, Tony accepted their offer.
Tony’s parents were furious that he quit school to become a farmer. They offered him no support and predicted he would soon be penniless. In one way they were right. In less than 10 years, at the age of 30, Tony and his young wife had $1,000,000 in mortgages on the land they bought to expand their farm. Tony turned the 50 acres he inherited into 1500 acres and grew everything from potatoes to peas to plums. And he eventually had 4 children to help him out.
One year, right after the last of their melon crop was harvested, boxed and loaded onto trucks to go to market, Tony and his wife decided to take a trip to Boston to visit one of their sons in college there. They got a flight east the next day. On their first morning in the city they took a walk through a nearby farmer’s market. Much to their surprise they found a table stacked with cantaloupes from their farm. The boxes beneath the stand were all the proof they needed that the melons were indeed theirs.
Tony told me it was like a miracle to see those melons in Boston that morning knowing they had been in the ground on his farm just two days earlier. He said that was when he was really able to appreciate what all the hard work was for, and why it was worth it.
Now Tony is ready to stop tilling his land, but his children have all chosen other paths for their lives. His grandchildren, too. So he’s looking for someone to take over for him, someone to mentor. He’s hoping there might be another pre-dental student out there who’d be willing to help him out.
For more information on the future of farming in this country see Family Farms in the United States.
Disclosure: I was visiting Sacramento, CA for an event sponsored by Sunsweet® and Tony is a member of the Sunsweet grower’s cooperative.