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Back in November, we laid another mentor from my early farming career to rest. Neophyte farmers often rivet sole attention on growing crops, only worrying about where and to whom they’ll sell produce when a harvest mountain overwhelms them. Distinguishing ourselves as marketers much sooner than we did as producers, Denesse and I cut our direct sales teeth at Arnett-Smith’s twice-weekly open air market behind Fresno’s old Chamber of Commerce building, over which Florence Smith reigned supreme. Her Arkansas Arnett clan had lit out for California at century’s turn, where Florence’s Civil War-era-born Grandpa Lewis acquired a less than prime forty acres in 1903 on the periphery of Fresno’s blooming Garden District. Son Ray Arnett (Florence’s father) took the reins during the Great Depression and was grudgingly passing the farm’s baton to Melvin Smith, onetime Okie field hand who had married the boss’s daughter, when I became acquainted with these prolific vegetable gardeners in 1981. Melvin grew it, Florence sold it, an arrangement Denesse and I have mimicked over some thirty-five years hence. Three huge stake-side trucks, piled high with fresh produce from Arnett-Smith’s now 160 acres, rumbled onto the Chamber parking lot at dawn each Wednesday and Saturday. Florence’s rickety, semi-permanent stand was soon mobbed six-deep by vegetable bargain hunters of every ethnic persuasion. Though she welcomed competitors at her private retail domain, levying but a modest fee, you could always count on Florence to undercut any price you set. It is yet remarked upon that Tom’s young wife was hawking summer squash at Arnett-Smith’s the day before our first child Elizabeth was born. That summer, budding entrepreneur Patrick Bourrel (of today’s Fresno-famed La Boulangerie) peddled fresh-baked sourdough from the trunk of his car at Arnett-Smith’s. Swapping unsold vegetables for leftover bread became a ritual for us penny pinchers. I discovered a softer generosity beneath Florence’s intimidating all-business-all-the-time shell when I infrequently asked for farming advice. Unlike most growers, she readily shared names of vegetable varieties well adapted to local conditions, information of incalculable value to greenhorns like me. We were not farming neighbors, with me shying away from better soils in west Fresno’s Garden District where ever-present green migra vans guided by INS spotter planes could scatter field crews on a moment’s notice. I sometimes ventured from my quieter eastside to stealthily circumnavigate Arnett’s Muscat Ave. farm, gathering intelligence on superior techniques, unfamiliar crops, improved equipment and planting dates. With few farming mentors yet living, I’m beginning to feel the burden of paying it back, or is it forward? If this generation is to sponsor more successful farmers than did our own, we oldsters now must lift others out of the profound ignorance from which our predecessors’ once kindly liberated us.