Dale Simmons’s career in farming has been motivated and moved by love. It was love that brought him back to the farm after college, love that spurred him on to organic production, and love that keeps him growing sweet-as-can-be organic oranges and mandarins year after year.
Dale’s family was growing fruit in California before refrigerated railcars changed America’s relationship with fresh produce and he’s the fourth generation to grow crops on the land his great-grandfather homesteaded in 1860.
“I grew up on the farm, it’s in my blood. It’s just what you do, and I love doing it,” Dale said, walking through the rows of navel oranges, a clear view of the Sierras in the distance.
In his college years, Dale had his eye on becoming an agriculture education teacher, but the crowd control required for managing high school agriculture classes didn’t leave enough room for his main motivation, which was a true love for growing.
Full-time farming was a better fit, and he had been at it for nearly two decades when he married his high school sweetheart, JoLavonne Videaune, an interior designer and big-city girl at heart. They’d both agree that a reference to Green Acres wouldn’t be a far stretch. And while Dale may have brought the city girl to the farm, he couldn’t make her eat.
“She wouldn’t eat anything I grew. When I asked why she told me, ‘Well, you’ve got chemicals all over your fruit,’” Dale said, reflecting on his reasoning for moving into organic production in the early 1990s. “Today, the whole ranch is organic, thanks to my wife,” he said with a smile.
Dale’s response to love transformed the fields. Looking at them today, all green and vibrant, you can’t help but think about how the land must have looked when his great-grandparents were there growing figs and peaches.
And just like the refrigerated boxcar connected farmers and far away people over a hundred years ago, farmer’s market booths and CSA sales have moved Dale and his fresh fruit a step closer to his end customers. Their praise proves to be the ultimate payoff. “Makes the ol’ head swell,” he said, humbly.
Hearing the fruit lovers express their appreciation has even affected how this lifelong farmer feels about the day-to-day of growing fruit on his generations-old farm.
“Growing up 30 years ago, it was just a way to make money. Today, there’s a different mindset, it makes you think, ‘How many people have I fed?’ And, as a farmer before, you never thought of it that way. Today it’s a whole new way of thinking. It’s feeding the world, or even feeding one person,” he said, continuing, “I love doing it, and I’ve got a great life because of it.”