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Stories from the valley

The harvest is as much about family as it is about our crops

Contributed by Tim Johnson

With the nights cooler and the sky a deeper blue, fall is on its way. The shortening days and school back in session also herald harvest in the Sacramento Valley. Everything from tomatoes to rice is filling the field side trucks.

While our crops are important and are the conclusion of a year’s work, harvest is also a reflection of family.  Unlike any other profession, you cannot separate what you do from your family when you farm.

Often misunderstood, farms in California are overwhelmingly family farms. According to a study by US Davis Giannini Foundation, in 2007 79 percent of farms were sole proprietorships. Of those that incorporate, most were family farming corporations. See the paper here

Photo Brian Baer
Photo Brian Baer

Plain and simple this means you work everyday with your family, in the field and at the dinner table. On Sundays and on holidays, interactions with family are ever present.

As great as that is, it’s never more meaningful than during harvest. For most, it is the most intense season on the farm. The stakes are high and things always seem to go wrong. In fact, most farmers I know refer to the first days of harvest as a time to ‘get the kinks worked out’.  Kinks look like harvester breakdowns, broken hydraulic lines and late crews.

When these things happen you turn to those you trust the most – your family. Spouses go get parts. Brothers fill in for a sick employee. Family drops everything to lend a hand.

Photo Brian Baer
Photo Brian Baer

One of the most touching expressions of care is seen in the field dinner. Work late in an office and you scrounge around for a day old bagel or a granola bar to tide you over until you can grab something on the way home.

Work late in agriculture and more often than not a spouse meets you and your whole crew with a hot meal, iced tea and fresh-baked cookies. As the sun sets on your farm, you take the first real break of the day and enjoy great food, camaraderie with your co-workers and spend a little time with your kids just settling in during the first few weeks of school.

Fall. Harvest. Most of all – family!