In the city of Kerman, along the western edge of Fresno County, the industrial almond orchards lining either side of the 180 might blur together into a what appears to be a tunnel of identical trees. In the month of September, however, and after 20 miles of nothing but monoculture orchard, a flash of blossoming orange to the left marks 3 small acres of divinity. Walking down the dirt path towards Antonio Trinidad's farm, the swath of orange in the field comes into focus as an eruption of marigolds. In the Central Valley the aroma of un-treated healthy soil is a rare luxury, and there is a clarity in the air that settles into sight on a farm that has been spared of disking (mechanically breaking up of the soil surface) and chemical treatment.
A group of children were playing near a shed on the land and waved me through the gate. To my left, a 1/2 acre of summer squash was upright and verdant and on my right, red tomatoes and deep green serrano chiles were glistening. Antonio, a man who works on cargo trucks as his day job, is a small scale farmer to supplement his income and to provide fresh produce for his family and community. On the occasion that a visitor drops by, he told me, he is happy to sell what he is growing. "Last year we just let most of our chiles go back into the ground because we couldn't use so much" he told me. "We are happy when a buyer comes to us." That day I pre-ordered two 5-gallon buckets of marigolds for upcoming Day of the Dead and Diwali celebrations.
"My family likes to come out and work together here. My parents suggest what to grow and we will plant it. Sometimes, if there is a gap in the row, my mom will come out and plant something from home." Antonio led me to the middle of the field where, amidst the habaneros and watermelons, a patch of papalo was sprouting. "Like the marigolds, my mother planted this here." For Antonio and his family, home is the town of San Juan Mixtepec in the Southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Antonio and his family are indigenous to this mountainous region and primarily speak his native tongue of Mixteco. His pride in his work comes from his connection to his homeland. "Back home in San Juan Mixtepec everyone works on their land. Usually it's the grandfather's place, and the whole family and community comes out to help." In this same way, during peak harvest, Antonio has his friends and family come out to his farm in Kerman to help harvest and take home their share in return .
Around 150,000 indigenous Oaxacan residents live in California, constituting about 1/3 of the new California farm labor force . In addition to facing some of the greatest discrimination due to linguistic and cultural isolation, this diverse community brings advanced agricultural knowledge based on seasonal rains and natural predator community to control pests. I inquire about irrigation. Speaking as though he is watering his own front yard at his home he replies, "We only water 3 times a week--that's what the regulation is with the drought." For land-stewards like Antonio the line between business and home is blurry. When asked about pesticide use Antonio says, "Oh no, we don't use poisons. The goal here is to be totally organic."