Unfortunately, death is a revealing time. More often than not, memorial services and obituaries are where you learn neat things about people you did not know before.
I did not know Jim Kuhn well. I had met the 41-year-old farmer as editor of Western Farm Press, through his involvement in the California Alfalfa and Forage Association. I also interviewed him several years ago for a story on Imperial Valley; California alfalfa production; his hay exporting operation; his dairy and his unique cheese factory.
He was not real comfortable being interviewed and photographed. Like many farmers, he liked to keep his business as private as possible, yet he was proud of being a farmer and proud — yet not boastful — of the success he had enjoyed. Some volunteer a lot in an interview. Others simply answer questions posed to them. Jim was the latter.
He wanted other farmers to be successful. He built his dairy not only to be a successful business, but to show others that the Imperial Valley was a good place for dairy cows. He wanted to see many dairies in Imperial County because he knew it would help the valley’s economy.
In most interviews, you gather facts that stick linger long after the story has been printed. The one from the Jim Kuhn story was that he was a graduate of Stanford University with a degree in Slavic languages and literature. I could not help but think; why in the world would anyone with the desire and the curiosity to get a degree in Slavic languages and literature want to come back to Imperial Valley to farm?
Don’t get me wrong. Imperial Valley is wonderfully productive farming valley. However, it also is a tough place to farm and live in the summer. Farming in the Imperial Valley is not for the faint of heart. I have written about more agricultural crises in Imperial Valley and the Southern California and Arizona desert than any place else.
Jim was born in Holtville, yet was educated in Indiana, New Hampshire and Palo Alto. He traveled the world, but returned to Imperial Valley to raise his family and to farm where his grandfather first began farming 90 years ago.
There was another reason I wanted to interview Jim. He was the son of Fritz Kuhn, and I was curious what the son of Fritz Kuhn was like. I did not tell Jim of my curiosity. When I began reporting on California and Arizona agriculture 30 years ago, I spent a lot of time in Imperial Valley. One of the first people I recall meeting was Jim’s father. Fritz Kuhn definitely made an impression. Anyone who knew Fritz Kuhn knows what I am talking about. He was a distinguishable person. I have no idea how many photographs I snapped of Fritz. He was always at meetings and conferences; soaking in information; talking to people; listening to people. He was a leader, maybe not by choice, but by recognition from his peers, much like Jim was a leader.
Back to the point my opening paragraph. I learned from the obituary of Jim Kuhn that he was a nature photographer whose persistence created the Salton Sea International Bird Festival. He also published a book, Land of Contrasts, a photography book on Baja California, and a pamphlet titled Birds of the Imperial Valley. He did not tell me this when I interviewed and photographed him at his farm. Makes me very self-conscious now. He probably could have given me some needed photography pointers. Like I said, Jim did not volunteer too much. I regret not talking to him about his passion for photography and nature.
The purpose of this column is to send condolences to Jim’s family; to recognize the success of Jim’s business and his contribution to California and Imperial Valley agriculture -- and to plead with everyone, please buckle up. Apparently, Jim was not buckled in when his SUV flipped on the rural road near his farm.
No one dislikes being told what to do more than me. I don’t like big brother, the government or anyone else telling me what personal choices I must make. Buckling up is the law, but in reality it is a personal choice. Call me an old fogy, but I buckle up. Unfortunately, I climb into too many farmer pickups and SUVs where the seat belt dangles from the door post. I have long buckled up and made everyone who rides with me do the same, regardless of how uncomfortable or confining or anything else it may be.
I have a longtime friend who is a pediatric neurologist. He has told more than one parent they had to make a decision to turn off life support of their child because the child was brain dead from being thrown through a windshield or out the window of a car rolling over. That and all the stories I have read about people who could have survived wrecks if they had been buckled in.
I know you are just going down the road to check this that or the other or you are only going 2 miles to the coffee shop for lunch and it is a hassle to buckle up. Regardless of where you are going, grab that seat belt and click it until that funny little red symbol on the dash goes out.
We only have a short time on this earth. Don’t cut it needlessly short.