By Constance Wong
Northwest Asian Weekly
Farming is often regarded as a low-class occupation, which offers anything but excitement. In movies, a farmer is often herding cattle, wearing a cowboy hat, or riding a horse.
But Victor Huang aims to dispel that stereotype.
A farmer from Asia
Huang, a farmer from Bao Loc, Vietnam, has worked on his personal 40-acre land for 20 years in California. He first learned about the craft from his father’s tea and coffee plantation when he was growing up. In Vietnam, Huang was surrounded by a small farm, which lined the mountainous terrains. Oftentimes, he helped his father dry and sell the produce to neighboring markets.
“Back when I was younger and helped my father, you couldn’t even water all 40 acres in a day. It is all flat irrigation and a lot of hard work.
The weather was the main source of irrigation. But the great humid weather helped to make the vegetables and fruits even juicier. The freshness was really from the weather. I suspect that you can recreate this environment in places like Hawaii and Florida.”
Huang immigrated to the United States in the early 1970s, with his family starting over. Though Huang first solidified a career in the engineering industry in Los Angeles, he found himself missing the open air.
So, in the early 1990s, he started his first vegetable farm.
Living in the Coachella Valley, which is 122 miles east of Los Angeles, he learned that working in this new environment would be decidedly different than the habits he had mastered in Vietnam.
“There are four things you need, if you want to be a successful farmer,” said Huang. “One — water. Two — manure. Three — perseverance. Four — seeds. Without one of these ingredients, you can’t farm. This is the formula I live by. It’s like raising a baby, really. Because babies can’t speak, you need to play by their reactions. Plants can’t speak to you and you need to babysit them to the best of your abilities.”
Farming in America
Hector St. John de Crevecoeur once articulated the American Dream as the reinvention of anyone you want to be. Membership requirements are a simple means of exchange: You give up the old and are embraced by the new.
Since his beginning during the 1990s, Huang is now an established farmer and owner of his land in the Coachella Valley area. This is where he raises Asian vegetables.
At first, he was mostly propelled toward his new career by memories of his childhood, but he reveals that dreams don’t create a great farm. Being good at the profession takes many years of experimenting, reading, and experience in order to perfect techniques.
“The reason I chose the Coachella area is for the heat, but it’s a different kind of heat than the Vietnam heat. [The] heat is more humid [in Vietnam], whereas the desert [in Coachella] has more of a dry heat. Because of this, I have to build many greenhouses to recreate the [Vietnamese] type of environment.”
Juan Rodrigo, an employee of Huang, has worked on the Coachella farm for about four years.
Rodrigo also farms because it’s his passion, not because, as many people assume, it’s his only option.
“Well, I’ve worked on farms since I was young in Mexico,” said Rodrigo. “Honestly, if I didn’t like farming, I wouldn’t be here. It can get extremely hot here, and if I didn’t think I liked it, I could not do this job. This is my life, and it takes a lot of time and commitment. Basically, I’m here because I love it.”
The schedule of a farmer and his workers are strict. The vastness of the fields needs a schedule, so that each row of vegetables is attended to correctly. However, time slots change as the weather changes.
“We can work in the winter all day long, because it’s not as hot. But in the summer, the temperature can rise up to 110-degrees Fahrenheit by 12 p.m. So then, we have to work from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m., and then from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. In between these hours, we usually nap or rest up. 8 p.m. is usually when the sun goes down,” said Rodrigo.
“We walk the fields around 5 a.m,” he added. “This is when it’s cooler, and you see the worms. You need to check the vegetables each and every day. It takes 4 to 5 hours to check all 40 acres. Then you need to start watering the vegetables. Each minute, about 700 gallons of water are released. You need to go back from section to section to check that the water is moving just right. Some vegetables need more water than others. And when the vegetables are already big, if you give too much water, then they will fall over. Then there’s also picking and preparing the land for new seeds.”
“Maintaining a farm in Asia is tough — you need more man-power,” said Huang. “In the United States, it’s easier to make your dreams come true with the progressive technology. I find that the States have more equipment and the labor is less intense. However, they are more rules and regulations in America. This is useful though, because America is good at keeping out dangerous plants and weeds that harm the land.”
Huang’s love for his career is straightforward. He admits that farming creates a stable and uncomplicated life.
“It’s more peaceful, and it’s calming. When the vegetables are growing and turning green, it really makes me happy. When they’re not, I’m sad. It’s as simple as that. The schedule is very easygoing, and I get to plan my own days.” ♦
Constance Wong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This story has been edited