Five months ago, when Dinuba farmer Paul Buxman collided with the idea of saving fellow farmer Will Scott, Jr. in the middle of the night, conventional wisdom would have found the proposed effort paltry. Just one farm among thousands, Scott’s wells were going dry, threatening to end his life as a farmer.
The drought was dragging on, big growers were drilling superdeep wells, pumping hard, and lowering the groundwater table everywhere, with few people protesting and no end in sight. In most people’s minds, the handwriting was on the wall for smaller-scale growers, but the lack of response was deafening.
There is nothing conventional about either Buxman or Scott, however. Both men grew up eating black-eyed peas from their mothers’ kitchen gardens. Both men farm with Massey-Ferguesson tractors. More important, both men farm with a purpose beyond making money, with passions for community, healthy food and ecological wholeness. Most important, both men farm in covenant with their Maker.
Both men also have a bent for organizing others in the effort to keep people on the land, growing food and being members of their communities. Organizing small family farmers is notoriously difficult, yet both Buxman and Scott have succeeded where others have thrown up their hands in despair. After all, why try to save this increasingly diminishing number of food producers when they are just a drop in the bucket compared to the dynamos of California production agriculture?
“It always comes back to food,” Scott said, while hoeing weeds away from the irrigation spigots at the end of rows of old cauliflower and cabbage ready to be plowed under as soon as the clutch on the tractor is fixed. He described howmonocropping patterns have destroyed the soil, diminished human diets, reduced local food supplies and made them less secure. He spoke about the cultural need to have people be more than consumers and renters, described the emptiness he finds in the eyes of our youth who have little prospect of being anything more than that.
The most important thing, he said, is to provide access to healthy food for the people who need it, to get that critical resource where it’s going to do some good.
“Without food, man becomes an animal,” he said, looking at the ground he had just cultivated. “If we take care of the least of us, everybody else will do well,” he said.
It is in the name of food and its more even distribution that Scott farms his 40 acres, growing organic beans and fresh vegetables to sell in the poorer urban farmers’ markets, what the Fresno organization Food Commons calls “food deserts.” It is in the name of food and good food growers that he started and helps maintain the African-American Farmers of California, where the tiny handful of Black farmers remaining in the Valley find mutual support and marketing aid. It is in the name of food that he started the 16-acre demonstration site to train youths to farm, market and even cook their own food, developing recipes that have already earned a few blue ribbons at the Fresno County Fair.
“The community can’t afford to lose this man,” Buxman declared five months ago as he launched the fundraising effort to drill deeper wells for Scott Buxman, who helps support his farming habit by painting beautiful scenes of the Valley’s remaining small farmscapes, decided to offer one signed, numbered, backed and wrapped lithograph for every foot deepened in Scott’s wells.
Three days after the idea was born, the first check arrived at his door, “priming the pump” for what would become a flood of generosity. By Christmastime, with little more than a few events and church presentations, more than $12,000 had been raised for lowering Scott’s wells. After
The Fresno Bee carried an update on the project February 21, another slew of checks arrived, encouraging the realization that people really do care about the fate of this small farmer, and perhaps even small farmers in general.
Arts Visalia is showing Buxman’s work at its gallery March 4-25. It has generously agreed to receive contributions for the Drill for Will Project as well as distribute the lithographs. At the opening on Friday, March 4, Buxman will be joined by Scott, as well as many other people who have pitched in to make this fundraising drive succeed.
The opening is from 6-8 pm at the Arts Visalia gallery, 214 E. Oak St.(559) 730-0905. Regular gallery hours are Wednesday-Saturday from noon-5:30 pm.
For more about this project visit, www.drillforwill.blog.com.