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September 11, 2007 > As high as an elephant's eye

As high as an elephant's eye

In the 1950s award-winning musical play and film, Oklahoma!, protagonist Curly McLain looks over rows of growing corn and is moved to sing of a bright morning where "The corn is as high as an elephant's eye, An' it looks like its climbin' clear up to the sky." Curly might not recognize the local landscape in Fremont, but he would certainly be comfortable with the rows of corn growing on a small patch of land along Walnut Avenue at Guardino Drive near the Fremont BART station. Here, Ramon Ramirez, lovingly tends the land, watching his spring labor of sowing seeds, sprout as tall sunflowers - his trademark - followed by corn stalks that reach "clear up to the sky" and a variety of vegetables.

As a young boy growing up in Mexico, he watched his grandfather till the soil and although many siblings knew of the connection between this man and the soil, only Ramon inherited his love for farming. Immigrating to the United States, Ramon spent 30 years raising gladiolas in the area. In 1980, his love affair with farming continued but the fruits of his labors changed from flowers to vegetables.

Generations of fresh vegetable fans have known Ramon for many years, first at a small plot on Alvarado-Niles Road in Union City and now at his present location. Members of the Ramirez clan have also spent time in the sales shed selling produce direct from the ground several yards away. Pointing to Guardino Drive that borders the farmland, Ramon notes that before the road was created, two pine trees stood on the land and his grandchildren sold corn from a wheelbarrow parked under those trees. Currently his granddaughters help at the stand along with his helper, "Meli."

Although the acreage is small, Ramirez Farms (he also has land planted 14 acres of Almonds near Atwater in the Central Valley) are bountiful. Three varieties of corn including a special, rare historic variety used for tamales, and sweet, savory corn that is at its best within hours of harvest. Planting begins in March and continues through the middle of July. Harvest begins in June. According to Ramon, this has been an exceptionally good year.

The harvest includes tomatoes, zucchini, cabbage, cucumbers, special -very hot - peppers and onions for the public as well as a few extras grown for personal consumption. Crops are grown during the summer and highly prized corn seeds from dried stalks are collected for the next year. The land is allowed to rest during the winter and a new plan waits for next spring. During winter months, Ramon works with his wife at their store - Discoteca Mexico - in the Irvington District of Fremont.

Crops can vary a bit from year to year, but corn is a staple and the sunflowers will always line the roadway as Ramon's signature - "I have to have my sunflowers every year!" Harvest begins in late June or the first part of July and continues until November. Sometimes - this year is an example - the crop will finish early but in other years, the stand will be open until the end of the year. This is up to Mother Nature.

Each year, Ramon brings out his tractor and seed planting equipment and coaxes the land to again nurture the seeds and plants for the growing season. As one of the last active farmers in the area - certainly the last in the immediate area - he has no plans to abandon the land and his customers. He says, "As long as the land is here and I am able to continue, I will do this."

The local climate is ideal for growing vegetables and, with Ramon's green thumb, the farm thrives. Not only does the farm supply fresh vegetables for local (and those who travel many miles for his crop) residents, but children are introduced to the growing cycle of plants by visiting a working farm with their parents or school. They often walk among the rows of vegetables to fully understand how crops begin their journey to their dining room table.

A challenge for all farms is to protect the crops from the animals that compete with the farmer for a tender meal of plants. Ramon says that his greatest challenge is from the crows and geese that wait expectantly for the first sign of a corn sprout. That day, he is sure to run water along the furrows to discourage their appearance. "They don't like the mud," says Ramon. He adds that when the dirt dries, it forms a hard shell that protects the young plants. No pesticides are used on this farm, so the crop requires constant attention. Protection from the human community doesn't require stringent measures since the farm has little problem with pilfering. It appears that respect for Ramon and one of the last farms in Fremont is viewed as a treasure by all.

Ramirez Farms
Open every day (closed winter)
Walnut Ave. & Guardino Dr., Fremont
(510) 499-9251
(510) 943-9623

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