Hello again. My name is Tonetta Simone Gladwin and last year at this time I wrote an article about how the California drought directly affected my ability to do business as Passion Fruit Farms. I told my story and expressed my passion for being a 3rd generation California fig farmer and how disappointed I was that my story as the Fig Lady had come to an end. Although I had made that decision and have taken steps to close my company, my story as the Fig Lady continues!
To put this past year into perspective, it was hard. Not just hard for me and my family, but for many families. This January, when I prepared my employees W2s for the mail, I realized how many other people were affected by the closing of my business. In 2013 I employed 402 people, in 2014 I had only 236 people working for me and in 2015 I prepared only 28W2s. In 2016 I had to lay off my right hand Fieldman, Elenar Lua who has worked for me for the past 15 years and worked with me 10 years before that. His wife was my packing house floor lady. We were a team and spent many long hot days together, how could I tell him I could no longer afford to pay him after all he and his family had done for me? What about Victor and Jose Luis? Every day they came to work without fail, every season in good years and bad ones and now I had to tell them I’m sorry? I feel I have let them all down.
To close a business means to try and sell everything you have to pay the bills the business created. This too has been a humbling experience. I can only compare it to that of selling some precious household items in a garage sale; so does farming equipment carry its own memories. Ladders, picking totes, produce coolers and even porta-potties all have stories and to have them haggled and picked over is just another reminder that this chapter in my life has ended.
I have a sign at the end of my driveway that says “NO FIGS” but it doesn’t stop the many faithful customers that have come out to purchase figs every summer. With my head down, I have to retell the story of the drought and that our trees and suffered and died back beyond our ability to continue farming. With shocked eyes, they often tell me how disappointed they are now that they do not know where to find fresh figs. If they are disappointed, how you do think I feel?
I want to scream sometimes, ‘Just because it rained, it does not mean the California drought is over.’ Remember, our lack of water was a man-made disaster and this water mismanagement had direct effects on people – a lot of people. If the disaster would have happened in a day, like a fire or a tornado or a hurricane, our leaders would have responded. The president, the governor and the media would have recognized our suffering and would have helped us, but instead their silence is deafening. Our disaster was a slow daily process of watching my trees out my kitchen window, turn yellow and die. My ranches are for sale, my business is for sale and I pray every night this slow painful process will be over.
I write, so it is not forgotten, so what happened here doesn’t happen again. A country that does not support its agriculture and make feeding the world a priority is dangerous and makes America weak. Water that flowed into the ocean that could have been used to make this country and its people strong of body, strong in economy and strong in resources was the true disaster. That no one is accountable and without recognition, we are only doomed to repeat the mistake and that is actually the true tragedy.
Like I mentioned in my article last year, I know people go out of business everyday but I want to say again, going out of business to a farmer is like a slow death of an old friend. The grief continues and hopefully with time it will be easier, but I ask in a loud Italian voice… “Remember, and please don’t let this happen to Ag again.”