“That’s a lot of green beans,” I say out loud.
We’ve pulled up to the field 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles in Chino, California…of all places. My companion Chad, a Chino farmer, tells me it’s 50 acres worth. Harvest just started this week.
Long, firm beans hung low near the base of the plants. Some beans strong and straight, some short and curvy. The excessive heat this summer has tested the crop’s viability. The seeds were planted two months later than the ideal time to plant for this area, so everyone is hoping for the best quality veg.
From where I’m standing, the beans look good. Really good. But weather can make or break a crop, so the timing of this harvest is crucial.
The farmer in charge of this field shows me a handful of beans that won’t make it to market, but would make perfect cocktail beans for dipping. They are the same bean as their superior longer peers, but the heat took its toll on their development – resulting in shorter, curvier veggies. The farmer tells me he would love to use all the beans, but it’s up to the public to want to eat them.
I turn my attention to the dozens of men and women handpicking the beans. The crew works swiftly, moving through the rows in unison. They grab handfuls of beans and place them in containers that flank their sides.
It’s 97 degrees outside, and it’s only noon. I feel my arms begin to burn.
I enter the field to get a closer look at their harvests, and find myself standing side by side with some of the workers. I say hello, but I’m embarrassed by my lack of Spanish.
The whole operation is enlightening to witness. I grew up 10 miles from Chino, but I never knew anything about its farming roots. I’m a bit late though for my history lesson.
Even though the city is great for farming – it has a Mediterranean climate and I’m learning about its soil and access to water – it’s also a destination to build communities for families and businesses.
Development has replaced Chino’s once robust farming industry, though popular culture in recent times has focused in on only one component of the city. One of the characters in the 2000s drama The O.C. is a troublemaker from Chino, and many movies and television shows reference the men’s correctional facility.
All one needs to do is drive the streets to get a feel for the area’s history and its future. Its farming roots date back to 1910, and its city motto is “Where Everything Grows.” At one time, the valley’s cows were making the most milk in the United States. Now, pockets of farmland and dairy farms are mixed in with residential and commercial development and banners honoring the city’s commitment to supporting its young people line the heart of downtown.
As Chad and I depart the green bean operation, I recount a dinner conversation I had with a non-farming friend last year. We were discussing news of a development project that had been approved on long-standing farmland. In response to this news, my friend stated, “Farming’s not going anywhere. It’s just being displaced.”
When he heard that, Chad just smiled.
We closed our visit with him giving me a few life updates. He’s made progress in researching where to move his family and farming operation in the next few years. He’s found a tropical location, and is now determining the crops he wants to grow. He will let us know his plans once they’re finalized.
In the meantime, Chad will continue to farm in Chino.