Meet a California Raisin Farmer: Richard Crowe of Black Crowe Vineyards
Meet a California Raisin farmer who wears many hats, both on and off the farm. When he’s not farming table grapes or raisins, pomegranates, grapefruit, persimmons, and oranges in Fresno, he can be found at his day job at the Department of Veteran Affairs. A veteran himself, he’s a civil war buff and enjoys traveling and learning about military history. Meet this extraordinary farmer who seems to never stop, and learn what he plans to do in “retirement.”
CA GROWN: What are you doing today?
Richard: In addition to farming, I also work for the Department of Veterans Affairs and I’m here in my office in downtown Fresno. I’m working on veterans’ issues daily. Tomorrow, I’ll finish picking the pomegranates. Later this week, I’ll be harvesting grapefruits and tangerines.
What is your favorite thing about farming?
Richard: I like growing and seeing the stream of commerce of farming from the planting to the harvesting and the final product that puts food on the table. It takes an amazing amount of time, energy, and resources to bring good quality food to market. I enjoy working in the fields and the physical aspect of the labor is fulfilling. I especially enjoy the spring time when everything is growing and you are working in the fields and seeing the snow on the mountains in the distance. It truly is an amazing experience.
How do you give back to the community?
Richard: We sell produce at reasonable prices so that the people in our community can afford and enjoy good quality produce. Fresno is the biggest agricultural producing county in the U.S. and not everyone has access to the good produce we grow here since much of it is shipped out of the state.
What drew you into the farming profession?
Richard: My great grandfather was from Milan Italy and my great grandmother was from Sicily (Unusual in those times). After they got married, they moved to Chicago, Illinois from Italy in 1906, then to Golden, Colorado where I grew up. My great grandfather made his own homemade wine and cheese. I inherited my love of wine from my great grandfather (he always let me taste his wine when I was a boy – different times back then). It has always been my dream to have a winery and make wine. When I married, I wanted a vineyard and when one came up for sale, I bought it. When I retire from the VA, I am going to start producing organic wine just like my Grandpa did. My business plan, when I retire will be to produce Sangiovese and some Merlot. I will also continue producing raisins.
What are your hobbies or past times when you are not farming?
Richard: I like to travel. My wife and I like to travel and see different cities. I travel to Nevada to look at ghost towns. I’m a big Civil War buff so I enjoy that as a hobby. I’m a retired Army Veteran so I enjoy reading about military history and I also belong to the Knights of Templars, which support our veterans.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into farming?
Richard: Get a piece of land before prices go sky-high. Get some property with a house on it. Land is a limited commodity. Just start, don’t wait. Figure out what type of produce you want to grow. There are different aspects to consider for each crop and labor is very expensive. Labor costs for growing organic crops is extremely high.
What are one or two things you do on the farm to be sustainable?
Richard: We are required to have sustainable programs in place as part of our California Certified Organic Farming (CCOF) certification. I have Owl Boxes for pest control, we do drip irrigation and reduced tilling. I plant legumes in the rows to bring nitrogen into the soil. We have pest management controls in place. We don’t use any herbicides or pesticides. We use a mixture of borax and powdered sugar to control the ants and aphids. My grandkids like to help me broadcast lady bugs which help control aphids.
In order to be certified organic, we have to adhere to a strict organic growing plan. We are required to practice sustainable measures. Planting cover crops and putting organic nutrients into my drip lines are part of that plan.