I caught up with Louie the peach farmer last week and we talked about the troubling water situation in California. Louie also grows almonds, a mainstay in our state, but also one of our most water-consuming crops. Louie is no stranger to this reality, but it’s tough to transition away from a crop you’ve been working with your whole life.
Always looking to the bright side, Louie shared some good news — he was able to buy the water allotment from one of his neighbors who doesn’t use his acreage for agriculture. With the gift of his gallons, Louie was able to have a bountiful fruit harvest.
Our conversation hopped to the farm laborers who made it all happen. Louie’s operation is smaller than the farms that typically make the news. He is not the guy getting interviewed by reporters on immigration and farm labor management. Some folks on his crew have been with him for decades and Louie pays them an above market wage. According to Louie, giving people dignity is just good business.
Each time we speak, it is so obvious to me that people mean a great deal to Louie. He sees farming as an opportunity he can provide to others in their search for purpose, especially youth. He told me a story about two boys he hired one summer long ago.
“They were orphaned – 18 and 16. I took ’em in. They were from a broken family. Father ran a bar. Died when they were 14. They were full of energy. I was 32 or 33 years old myself. We went out and did hard physical work together. The older one lived with me and the younger one was in foster care. By the end of the summer each of ’em had bought their own pickup. They may not have been farmers, but the work put metal into their souls. Both of them went out to Georgia and did well. I hear from ’em from time to time.
You just get this realization that you have the capacity to go beyond yourself. We need to. Young people don’t have structure in their lives. We need to give them that. But I don’t know if it’s culturally acceptable to work hard anymore. When I was coming up, hard work was part of the culture. There was a dignity around it. And it’s cleansing. My happiest people sing when they’re working hard. What’s wrong with that? That’s what happiness really is.”
Louie and I left each other on ideas of work and connectivity, and how our unused capacity keeps us from being happy. I told him about how I’ve flailed since leaving working in food — in the extra time, and the idleness of my hands and mind. We agreed it was something for me to think about and then laughed — “More thinking!” The residue of our conversation lingers, beckoning me to take action.