In a stifling 103 degree mid-summer evening, Ia and Choua Lor were seated together in the middle of their field harvesting onions together. Far from the silence of the nearby grape fields, their field was abuzz with the sound of life. Butterflies, bees and moths were flitting around us gathering the last of the sunlight's necessity while Choua and Ia pulled piles of fragrant bulbs, snipping the dry root hairs with pruning shears, removing the excess onion paper and carefully placing them in vegetable boxes. The onions were a deep magenta and golden, and freshly unearthed, smelled sweet and sharp.

The Lors finish the day's onion harvest by packing and weighing the crop. They keep the extra unsalable bounty for their own consumption and for friends and family. As refugees from Laos, the couple have been farming in California for 4 years. When they first arrived in the US they were re-located in Minnesota before moving to Fresno, since California's Central Valley is a major resettlement destination for hundreds of Lao people. The couple started out by renting 2 acres and slowly cultivated their business, doubling their production every year until they reached 18 acres of production where they rotate growing diversified crops such as onions, potatoes, peanuts, long beans, and greens of various kinds throughout the cooler season.

Ia shows us her technique for cultivating her onion field. With a swift movement of her small hoe she is able to loosen the soil around the onion bulb and remove weeds, a technique that she reminds us is impossible with a large implement, much less with herbicides. "If you use the large tractor implement to spray herbicides, it carries for 1-2 miles," she tells us. She explains how her method is simple and effective, and allows the plant roots to extend to absorb more nutrients and water. 

Choua talks to us at length about his approach to weed control. He uses a very small amount of targeted herbicide so that he is able to control the most invasive of his weeds. He explains that for small growers like them the costs are extremely high to purchase chemicals. There is no room for irresponsible management. He uses the top of a water bottle around the head of his back-pack applicator to ensure that the chemical does not travel from the 2 square inches where it is intended to go.

As we talk, we hear the revving engines of the nearby tractors in the surrounding industrial grape fields. The community of Del Rey, where the couple farms, ranks in the California Environmental Protection Agency's 90th percentile for agri-chemical exposure [1] and it is very common for large growers to conduct overhead dusting of RoundUp and other harmful chemicals very nearby. The couple are both deeply concerned about the health of their community. "Many small farmers are getting cancer," Choua says. He explains how many of his colleagues are switching to growing crops such as peanuts that require little to no inputs in order to mitigate the risks on their own farms. 

[1] Del Rey, CA. Map. CalEnviroScreen 2.0