News From the Farm | June 17, 2019

The Full Belly Irrigation crew in the potato field: Jose, Conrado, Manuel and Arturo  — 

This is the thirsty time of year when pumps are running and water is flowing 24/7 all over the farm.  There are more than 300 acres of fruits, flowers and and vegetables that have to be taken care of and at Full Belly, the fields don’t come in easy 50-acre contiguous blocks.  Three acres here and four acres there, all managed differently.  In the late spring, when fields are turning over from winter to summer, pumps have to be put into position, drip tape has to be set up, and systems have to be in tip top order.  You see pipe trailers being pulled all around the farm, and Arturo — the irrigation crew leader — driving around everywhere in his red truck.  When Arturo talks on the radio he sounds as if is running in hyperdrive.

I recently sat down to talk with Jose, one of the irrigators.  Jose was born in Mexico and moved to California when he was 21 years old. He has now been in California for 20 years and has never been back to visit his brothers and parents.  He sends money to them regularly and knows in his heart that one day he will return to see his friends and family.

Before coming to Full Belly seven years ago he worked on a farm in LA planting fruit trees and other plants.  Now that he is an irrigator, he thinks all the time about irrigating up weeds to get fields ready to plant, getting plants water when they need it, and trying to work around the harvest, when deep muddy soil can slow the picking crews down to a snail’s pace.

Jose is a gregarious guy who clearly loves people.  “I’m not shy” he admits. His English is limited, but he is always game to try it out. I asked him what it was like to live in California when Spanish was his primary language.  He said that he started to learn to speak English on the streets, talking with people in restaurants, markets, parks and stores, but he has never had classes.  At Full Belly, through our internship program he as met people from Japan, and many other parts of the world and finds that his limited English and their limited Spanish has resulted in good communication and understanding. “I never would have thought I would be able to talk with people who aren’t Mexican”, he says.  Now, “just ask twice” is his motto, just to make sure he really did understand whatever was said.

Jose mentioned that he goes out of his way to talk to the University researchers that come to Full Belly — they often ask him about the farm and his work.  The same goes at the Hoes Down Harvest Festival —  so many people that are Full Belly customers are at the farm during the Hoes Down.  Jose described how people pick him out, guessing that he works on the farm, say hi to him and then stop for awhile to talk about the fields and his work at the farm.

“I am proud of Full Belly and the opportunity to work.  Each day I try to work well with my companions and do better than the day before.  The work is hard, but that is part of the process. To me, this isn’t a farm, it is paradise.”

—Judith Redmond

Jose (front) and Conrado moving pipe.