First Friday of the month at 5p.m.
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Bewildered over how to farm twenty sandy, rented acres east of Fresno’s Gallo winery in 1981, I recalled my former Newhall Land and Farming Co. superintendent Les “El Pescuezon” Travis’s experience. “I drove the neighborhood each morning, spying on farmers who appeared to know what they were doing”, recounted Les, who sought refuge as a tiller of soil following WWII military service. Providentially, where my Olive Ave. dead-ended into Fancher Creek, I discovered a pair of long-experienced market gardeners on opposite corners. On the north side, Japanese-American George Yagi meticulously tended vegetables on five acres of benched land, while across the way, African American Leon Poe cultivated fifteen creekside acres of same. Steady streams of Fresnans, hungry for Silver Queen sweet corn and Ace tomatoes, motored onto Poe’s and Yagi’s farms each afternoon after harvests were gathered. Hurried customers pulled into Yagi’s unpaved circle drive where taciturn, businesslike George handled transactions efficiently under a massive camphor tree’s shade, sometimes limiting small talk to a mere grunt or nod. More sociable types patronized Poe’s Gardens where afternoons found Leon presiding over his realm from a tattered sofa next to the irrigation pump’s cool stream. You’d be obliged to sit a spell while Poe spun tales of earlier days plying Louisiana swamps and working Arkansas cotton. In a rare talkative mood, George once recounted how his immigrant parents wage-labored by day on other’s farms, then worked their own plot evenings to gain a modest economic foothold. Hard-won achievements went to hell in a handbasket when their family was forced into wartime detention. When I met them, only confirmed bachelor George and his ancient mother, who spoke no English, remained on the land. Permanently bent at a right angle from the waist up, Mom Yagi dutifully performed gardening chores alongside her son. The sole hired labor on those five acres was a high school boy employed afternoons after classes let out. Exacting George singularly imposed regimented, orchard-like spacing on his prized tomato patch, stretching a beaded marker wire between two stakes to guide hand planting. Never wasting words, Yagi took me under his wing, loaned me tools and succinctly answered a novice’s pesky queries. After relocating T&D Willey farm some distance away, I lost contact with George but not the more approachable mentor Poe. They both cultivate Elysian Fields today, whilst those Fancher Creek acreages, now belonging to horsey folk, sprout no vegetables. ￼ Tom Willey