Meet a Farmer: Luke Wilson of Wil-ker-son Ranch and Chestnut Connection
Most of us think of chestnuts during the holidays. Their dark smooth shells make their way into supermarkets before Thanksgiving. But thank goodness we have farmers like Luke Wilson of Wil-ker-son Ranch and Chestnut Connection who think about them year-round so there’s plenty of chestnuts to roast on the open fire during the holiday season.
Luke has been in the chestnut business for 18 years as a packer and shipper, and during the past four years he and his family have been growing their own and thank goodness, because we need more chest-nutty goodness in our lives.
CA GROWN:What are you doing today?
Luke:Today I was going through all of the orchards and doing our last cleanup before harvest. We need to make sure the fields are clean, free of brush and mowed before we can harvest the ripe chestnuts that fall to the ground. We have a harvester that sweeps up the chestnuts and then hulls them. Every three days, we sweep and pick up the orchard.
To keep the nuts fresh and moist, we wash, pack, and then refrigerate the nuts until they are ready to be sent to stores. They can last up to 2-3 months when stored at 33 degrees.
CA GROWN:What is your favorite part of farming?
Luke:My favorite part of farming has to be the freedom. It’s the ultimate form of freedom when you have the ability to essentially grow money out of the ground, and hopefully, most years, we make more money that it costs to grow.
And if we want to transition to a new crop, we can do that. We have the freedom to make decisions about what we farm.
CA GROWN:How do you give back to the community?
Luke: We have sponsored a few of our employees’ kids through junior college and college. One of them went on to get a nursing degree. We try to help our full-time workers who have been with us a long time. Their kids will work with us during the summer months and we really get to know them. They are like our family.
We’ve also hosted and sponsored events for the local schools, sports and youth programs.
CA GROWN:What drew you into the farming profession?
Luke:Well, I’m a second generation farmer. It took me basically trying to run away from the farm as far as I could get, to realize how much I loved it. I lived in Newport Beach for 5-6 years and did everything from selling insurance to multi-media work and I hated it all.
It took me talking in a job interview about everything I learned growing up on a ranch to realize that the farm is where I wanted to be. The person interviewing me asked ‘Why are you even here, you seem so passionate about farming?” Everything I was passionate about, I was running away from. Coming back home and taking over the family business made me see that. Going away made me see how much I appreciate farming.
CA GROWN:What are your hobbies or past times when you are not farming?
Luke:I like snowboarding and off road racing, rock and roll music and trying to see as much of the world in the short life we’ve got here.
CA GROWN:What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a farmer?
Luke:Basically I think you have to take time to breathe and relax. As farmers we deal with a lot of stressful situations, everything from harvest to complications to bad weather, to harvesting issues, to politics and market factors that we can’t control. If you get all worked up about them you can literally drive yourself crazy and sometimes you just need to get away from the farm.
In successful businessman and farmer, Howard Buffet’s book “30 Chances” he talks about as a farmer we’ve got about a 30 year career, so we basically have 30 harvests to make improvements and make our money. Every year you have a fresh chance at bat, a chance to hit a home run or get more efficient. Each year is so important because we only get 30 chances, 30 shots. It just shows how important it is to evolve every year.