What is in this article?:
- Small farm champion of Tulare County retires
- Reaching small growers
- Manuel Jimenez went from hard-scrabble farmworker to world-renowned farming authority.
Manuel Jimenez in a Kearney research plot where he studied whether tropical papaya would be a viable California specialty crop.
Manuel Jimenez went from hard-scrabble farmworker to world-renowned farming authority, all while living in and serving his hometown – the small, rural community of Woodlake, Calif. The University of California Cooperative Extension advisor, who worked with small family farmers in Tulare County for 33 years, retires in June.
Jimenez has a storied California heritage. His grandmother was half Chumash Indian; his father an immigrant from Zacatecas, Mexico. The extended family of farmworkers settled in Exeter, where his grandfather, an early labor organizer, planned a strike in the 1950s, long before Cesar Chavez came on the scene. Subsequent hard feelings forced the family to migrate to other areas for work.
"My family was entrenched in farm labor," Jimenez said. "I had the good fortune to go to college."
Completing college wasn't easy. He married his wife Olga right out of high school, and they immediately started a family. Jimenez worked in the fields and Olga in a packing house while they scrambled to find childcare.
Ultimately Jimenez earned a bachelor's degree in plant sciences at Fresno State University in 1977. Not long after graduation, he was named senior agronomist for the North American Farmers Cooperative, an organization of 300 small-scale vegetable and fruit producers based in Fresno.
"We were responsible for visiting all the farmers twice annually – 600 farm calls a year," Jimenez said. "I was overwhelmed very quickly, but learned a lot."
While working for the cooperative, he met Pedro Ilic, then a UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Fresno County, who encouraged him to apply for a new small farm advisor position in Tulare County.
"I was hired in 1980 and have been here ever since," Jimenez said.
Jimenez was able to make his first mark on the industry by experimenting with a novel pest control strategy for tomato pin worm on cherry tomatoes, the most valuable crop produced on small-scale farms at the time. Growers were making 15 to 20 pesticide applications per season, and the pest developed resistance to the chemical. The heavy pesticide use also killed beneficial insects that keep leaf miner in check. The result was completely defoliated plants that produced nothing.
Working with UCCE specialists at UC Riverside and UC Davis and other UCCE advisors, Jimenez conducted research proving that dispensing a non-toxic insect pheromone was an effective and economical alternative to chemical treatment.
"This research really paid off because it worked on all tomato types," Jimenez said.
With this success, Jimenez became established as a valuable resource for the agricultural industry and had opportunities to share the research in statewide and international presentations. His primary goal, however, was sharing agricultural advancements with the small-scale growers in Tulare County. He surveyed the clientele, most of whom were Latino, and found they were unlikely to read newsletters or magazine articles to learn about agricultural technology. But they did listen to the radio.
Jimenez established a relationship with Fresno-based KGST "La Mexicana," one of the oldest radio stations in California, and developed an agriculturally themed morning radio program in Spanish. Later he regularly appeared on a question and answer program, Entrevistas y comentarios, with host Estela Romo. The collaboration lasted 30 years, until Romo retired.