From Tulare County
June 1, 2013
Tulare County Small Farms Advisor, Manuel Jimenez, Retires
Manuel Jimenez went from hard-scrabble farmworker to world-renowned farming authority, all while living in and serving his hometown – the small, rural community of Woodlake, Calif. The University of California Cooperative Extension advisor, who worked with small family farmers in Tulare County for 33 years, retires in June.
Jimenez has a storied California heritage. His grandmother was half Chumash Indian; his father an immigrant from Zacatecas, Mexico. The extended family of farmworkers settled in Exeter, where his grandfather, an early labor organizer, planned a strike in the 1950s, long before Cesar Chavez came on the scene. Subsequent hard feelings forced the family to migrate to other areas for work.
"My family was entrenched in farm labor," Jimenez said. "I had the good fortune to go to college."
Completing college wasn't easy. He married his wife Olga right out of high school, and they immediately started a family. Jimenez worked in the fields and Olga in a packing house while they scrambled to find childcare.
Ultimately Jimenez earned a bachelor's degree in plant sciences at Fresno State University in 1977. Not long after graduation, he was named senior agronomist for the North American Farmers Cooperative, an organization of 300 small-scale vegetable and fruit producers based in Fresno.
"We were responsible for visiting all the farmers twice annually – 600 farm calls a year," Jimenez said. "I was overwhelmed very quickly, but learned a lot."