Luis Ramirez

 

-“A very small amount of people feed the world.”

Luis Ramirez

A Farmer and so much more

(Read this story in Spanish)

 Luis Ramirez, oil on canvas By Holli Harmon

Luis Ramirez, oil on canvas By Holli Harmon

The fertile Santa Maria River Valley yields some of the most important crops in the state—lettuces, broccoli, strawberries, grapes. These vital crops are harvested by migrant workers who are proud of their work and in their ability to provide for their families. State and federal policies are in place to guard the safety of these workers and the food they handle. On the fields are hands-on agricultural managers like Luis Ramirez. “Our food safety program ensures that produce is harvested and shipped in a hygienic and safe manner.”

Luis works for Rancho Harvest, a company that is contracted by farmers to provide labor and hauling to processors or directly to stores. “Training crews is a big piece of it. I go to the crews and do visual inspections. I have an enormous amount of respect for the workers. I’ve tried harvesting lettuce, broccoli, berries—it’s humbling.”

Before being hired as a manager, Luis attended Cal State Long Beach, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. “Doing a drive along the fields with my friends from Cal State Long Beach is eye-opening. The general public doesn’t know what people should know; a very small amount of people feed the world.”

Luis was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. “My earliest memory is of crossing the river on my father’s shoulders, but most of my memories start here.” His parents were hired to work on a Santa Ynez Valley ranch and he grew up with his brother attending the local schools including Santa Ynez Union High School. “The school was about 40% Hispanic and 60% Anglo. I grew up poor but I had a unique experience, growing up on a ranch, riding horses. When you’re a kid, you just want to fit in.” Luis shares that he felt like he was raised in two cultures; the culture of his parent’s Mexico and the SYV ranch culture. “You’re culturally rich that way.”

His major influences were his strict parents who instilled values of respect and hard work. “Respect is built into our language. Me dio la oportunidad, y abrió muchas puertas saber que comunicarme con la gente.”

 He had an early passion for art. “My dad was not excited about me changing my major to art but my parents were always supportive.” Luis transferred to CSULB from Alan Hancock College. While at CSULB, he attended a summer program in Italy and then had a year of education abroad at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in China.

“I’ve always been able to learn things. I branched out to wine [working at Bridlewood Estate Winery and Fiddlehead Cellars], and eventually agriculture. It was tough to get hired [with an art degree]. Even stronger than a degree is your ability to talk to people and get things done.”

In his early 30s, Luis is a master painter. “I paint my experiences--family, the ranch, field agricultural operations. I’ve been painting the same thing since I can remember; the agricultural community in California and a bit of the immigrant experience.”

“I paint the field workers in sunlight; they are squinting. I use a Spanish palette.” Using just four colors to mix his paints, Luis captures a range of light that retains the rich colors of the area. “I have no political agenda. I just paint field workers.”

Luis has worked for Rancho Harvest for two years. “It gives me a level of security.” In a typical day he visits several crews in the Santa Maria area, but his territory also includes Salinas, Bakersfield, Oxnard and Coachella. “Broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, wine grapes. This is our food supply. I don’t know what else is more important. I’m just a food guy. What a cheap labor force we are. We keep food on the table and at a reasonable price.”

“H-2A [seasonal agricultural worker visa program], I think is the future of agriculture. The program allows us to recruit in Mexico and then [workers] return after the season is over. There’s a labor crunch. There is not enough labor in the Santa Maria Valley. Working in the fields is an act of necessity. If you have few options for work it’s a default; there are monetary benefits for working here.”

“There is a necessity to provide for your family. I don’t think the workers say, I’m here to provide food for the world. They say, I’m here to provide for my family. It’s a point of pride.”

As alluded to in Holli’s portrait, Luis is part of fabric and heart of the Santa Maria Valley. His experiences bridge the cultures of the valley. Moreover, in his role as an agricultural manager, his work to ensure safe food affects all of us who live in the central coast region and beyond.

When asked what he would like the public to know, he reflects, “be connected to the food supply. Understand that months of preparation go into it. Remember the people that work it.”

By Katherine Bradford