By Julie Hay, Great Lakes Bulletin News Service
Leo Ocanas photo by J. Carl Ganter
There is an ease in his heavily accented voice. Neither his accent nor his modesty, though, masks the smile in Leo Ocanas’s voice when he speaks about the Hispanic tradition in farming.
â€œThe legend of the Hispanic people is work. Our ambitions come from farm labor,â€ Mr. Ocanas said recently. â€œIt’s in the blood of migrants since they were little. We love farming because that’s all we know.â€
Mr. Ocanas’s life perfectly illustrates his words. As a youngster, he came to the United States from Mexico with his family, his green card, and a readiness to harvest crops. Three decades, countless farms, and thousands of miles later, he became a U.S. citizen. He used $29,000 he had somehow saved while working for farm laborer wages as a down payment on 22 acres of farmland on Traverse City’s Old Mission Peninsula. Today he owns the largest apple orchard on the peninsula.
But Mr. Ocanas’s story also illustrates a brand-new phenomenon: the face of American agriculture is changing. While Mexicans form the largest group of what’s come to be called â€œnew farmers,â€ others are also spurring the transformationâ€”immigrants from Asia and Europe, women, retirees, even baby boomers looking for new careers. Together, these newcomers are gradually recasting the image of American farmers.
Many are helping to change how farming is done, too. Some use more labor-intensive, sustainable farming methods; some engage in community-supported agriculture, selling season-long shares of their produce to a limited list of customers; and ever more are tapping into local markets whenever they can…
Also see: With These Hands: The Ocanases (multimedia)