Thursday, April 24, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Field to fork: From bracero to granddad of the market

DanKennedyC.eps

By
From page A9 | September 25, 2013 | Leave Comment

A great many people walk on by, but there are those who stop. It’s a small stall, as vendor space goes at the Davis Farmers Market. It’s fundamental, easily passed, as it doesn’t sport the eye-catching retail design displayed by some of the other vendors. Small baskets, boxes, piles. Whatever’s fresh that week is on display from Cadena Ranch.

In a few weeks Ramon Cadena turns 80. He and his wife, Lucila, have been at the market since its earliest days. He farmed more back then. Today his godchild, who is in the Capay Organic and Farm Fresh To You organization, grows crops on 14 of the Cadenas’ 27 acres in Esparto.

I dropped by their ranch earlier this month. Their dog, a chicken and a dozen cats showed varying levels of interest in me. We sat in resin chairs under a big tree in the side yard.

Today there are 4,000 small farmers who are certified and sell at California farmers’ markets. Few would tell a story like the Cadenas.

The federal government started the bracero program in 1942, looking to bring manual laborers from Mexico at a time when American men were at war. A reversal, really, because in the 1930s half a million Mexican laborers were deported — it was the Great Depression, a hard-scrabble time in the farm fields.

Ramon came to the U.S. in 1955. For the Mexicans, emigrating held promise of a new life. But poor pay, harsh conditions, irregularities in the availability of food meant that, for many, they were difficult days.

“All the houses bosses would provide were like chicken coops,” Ramon recalled. “I thought, ‘Good Lord, give me the strength to build an adobe house.’”

He’d known Lucila from their hometown, Guadalajara, since the age of 12. The way he saw it, he couldn’t bring her to the States and start a family until he had this house. “I made bricks, and one day I could say, ‘Now I am ready.’” That was 1962.

The house he’d built was in Rumsey. He and Lucy then worked hard on their dream. They had three children. Ramon commuted to Woodland where he could learn English when he wasn’t otherwise working. That paid off, as he secured a bookkeeping position with Diamond Lumber in Esparto, where he worked for 14 years.

One day the Cadenases went to check out an old house in Esparto, more than 100 years old, that was in terrible shape. Successive renters had taken their toll. Still, they figured they had the skills and industry to make it habitable, so they bought it in 1971. They did the house over and still live there today.

When the Davis Farmers Market got underway, Ramon and Lucy were among the early vendors. They brought nuts, fruit and vegetables. It was a different era. Many of the vendors were backyard growers, not needing to make a living. Ramon also remembers a vendor from north of Woodland who was selling stolen melons at prices that undercut legitimate vendors like him. He served on the market’s board for a time.

These days Ramon puts in six hours of work in the morning, then calls it a day. “I wish he would quit,” Lucy said, but this is clearly his life. Right now, rows of young leeks, others of basil, more of broccoli. Citrus trees. Cactus. Peach trees that Lucy had grown from pits, which just isn’t done in American agriculture. And then there are all the people they have known at the market through the generations.

“All his children and grandchildren grew up at the market,” said Randii MacNear, market manager. “People ask after him if he isn’t there. He’s like the grandfather of the market.”

Ramon and Lucy haven’t forgotten where they’ve come from. Suzanne DePalmas, a volunteer, brings them day-old bread from Davis stores during Saturday market hours — sometimes enough to fill half the bed of their pickup, Ramon said. He and Lucy then bring it to St. Martin’s R.C. Church in Esparto on Saturday evenings for distribution to people in need. Day-old, that’s nothing.

For Ramon and Lucy Cadena, the bracero program did open a door. It got them here, and enabled eventual citizenship. The road was hard, the one they traveled. Not that you would know if you passed by their stall on Saturdays, where they observe and step up to greet those they know, and those they don’t.

— Dan Kennedy, a Davis resident, has a long history with the bounty of gardens and small farms. Reach him at kennedynow@yahoo.com

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

News

 
4-H members prepare for Spring Show

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1

Food insecurity remains an issue for many county residents

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1

 
 
Youth sports in focus on radio program

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Rummage sale will benefit preschool

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Concert benefits South Korea exchange

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Conference puts focus on Arab studies

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Water rate assistance bill advances

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Program explores STEM careers for girls

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Embroiderers plan a hands-on project

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Central Park Gardens to host Volunteer Orientation Day

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Volkssporting Club plans North Davis walks

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Hotel/conference center info meeting set

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Davis honors ‘green’ citizens

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Cycle de Mayo benefits Center for Families

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A8

Author to read ‘The Cat Who Chose to Dream’

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A12

 
.

Forum

High-five to Union Bank

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Broken sprinklers waste water

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Three more administrators?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Neustadt has experience for the job

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Here’s a plan to save big on employee costs

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

 
Davis is fair, thoughtful

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Ortiz is the right choice for Yolo

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

The high cost of employment

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
.

Sports

DHS tracksters sweep another DVC meet

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Another DVC blowout for DHS girls soccer

By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Young reinvents his game to help Aggies improve on the diamond

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
DHS boys shuffle the deck to beat Cards

By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

DHS/Franklin II is a close loss for Devil softballers

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

 
Baseball roundup: Giants slam Rockies in the 11th

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
UCD roundup: Aggies lose a softball game at Pacific

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3

Jahn jumps to Sacramento Republic FC

By Evan Ream | From Page: B8

 
.

Features

.

Arts

Congressional art competition open to high school students

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
Emerson, Da Vinci to present ‘Once Upon a Mattress’

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
Winters Plein Air Festival begins Friday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
Bach Soloists wrap up season on April 28

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A11

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Comics: Thursday, April 24, 2014

By Creator | From Page: B6