Lucio was born in the United States, but he crossed the border for nine years to attend school in California’s Imperial Valley because his family moved back to Mexico. Some days it took 40 minutes to drive across. Other days it could take up to an hour and half, and he would walk because the line of cars waiting to enter the U.S. was too long.
“I never thought about crossing the border,” Lucio says. “It was just part of life and how things were for me and my siblings.”
Growing up, Lucio had his heart set on becoming a veterinarian like his grandfather, but he learned early on in school that he couldn’t handle the sight of blood. So he pursued a new career — farming, following the path of some of his family members in Mexico.
Science and agronomy came naturally, and he discovered he had an innate ability for cultivating plants from seed. At Cal Poly Pomona University, he excelled in hydroponics and upon graduation was recruited by several companies to join their firms.
But Lucio had a different calling, one that took him back to the desert region near the Mexico/U.S. border where he would harness his passion for plants.
Today, I return to the Imperial Valley where Lucio works as a farm manager. (I’d previously written about his date harvest.) I’ve grown fond of the desert and Lucio over the past year, so the three-hour drive is one I eagerly anticipate.
I’m in town visiting Lucio to see the 110 acres of lemon trees he and his crew recently planted. This was his first major planting and he was excited to share it with me. Lucio explains that he and a crew of 16 men and women, working over 20 weeks, planted 13,420 starter trees by hand.
As we walked the rows of strategically aligned trees (they resemble a perfect grid), his eyes focus on the young crop’s leaves. He can determine the health of any tree with a quick glance. Nothing escapes him.
The trees will produce fruit for market in five years and the company that owns the ranch will sell the lemons to food distributors, and animal feed and juice companies throughout the U.S.
Lucio also manages mature lemon orchards at the same ranch, and I’ve asked to visit the next lemon harvest in the fall to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes to process and sell the lemons.
For today, though, it’s a time of reflection between two friends. Lucio’s trees are tucked away off the desert highway and will rarely be seen by people not working the land. In an age of VIP everything, I consider myself fortunate.
I ask Lucio if he would ever leave the region to pursue other opportunities in the food and farming industry. With his skills, he no doubt has a lot of options.
“This is my home,” Lucio says. “I love my job and knowing that what I grow will feed someone for a moment. Also, I’m close to Mexico and can travel back to see my family at any time.”