Don Mabs comes from a long line of farmers. He grew up working the land with his father, pursued a formal education in agriculture, and has decades of experience walking the rows and vineyards of the Central Valley’s farmland. And though all those factors are contributors, finding true success in farming, according to Don, requires something more.
“You have to have a passion for growing things,” Don said. “I don’t know if it’s a gift, or you’re born with it, but you have to really enjoy nurturing crops and doing what has to be done to make them a successful venture.”
While that passion and experiential knowledge is personal and not easily transferred, mentoring the next generation of growers is something Don thinks about often; after all, he and his wife Kathy have four kids and 12 grandkids.
Much of his advice for up-and-comers is focused less on giving practical, in-the-field type knowledge, and more on encouraging the strengths of each person, pushing them to think critically, and to be open to advice and help from others.
If that sounds more like lessons in life than lessons in farming, that’s because for Don, there hasn’t been much distinction between the two. He grew up growing peaches, corn, cantaloupes and flowers with his family in Southern and Central California, and those lessons on the farm have carried over into life, and then back again.
“I learned a lot of life lessons from Dad. One of them was to be truthful and have integrity, and that of course goes into the farming also, being truthful to what you’re trying to accomplish, working hard, and having high goals in life,” Don said.
Don’s approach to organic farming is similar to his approach to mentoring future farmers: use wisdom and knowledge to create an environment that will allow a tree’s best characteristics to be expressed. Stewarding resources well is a part of that.
“To me the biggest issue that we face in farming is what are we doing with our resources, and organic production may figure into that more than anything. We need to become really good stewards of our resources and grow the crops that are healthy, good flavored, and grown as safely and efficiently as possible without contributing to the demise of our planet or the environment,” he said, continuing, “There are things about organic agriculture that are yet to be discovered, and to unlatch some of those keys to production and being able to give people a really delicious piece of fruit that has incorporated a lot of sustainable programming, that’s part of the whole big picture.”