Series | Home in Douglas County

Jesus Limon with his wife Maria and the couple’s grandson Damian. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

 

By Karen Larsen
Empire Press Correspondent

This is the sixth in a series of articles about people who have come to Douglas County from places near and far and have thrived here. Some came through marriage, some have retired here and some are young couples who have found this to be their place of choice for raising children. All have become active in the life of the community and have come to call this home. The sixth article is about Jesus Limon, who came to the United States in 1974 from a farm in a town outside of Guadalajara, Mexico. After moving to Washington state, he worked at Auvil Fruit and later purchased his own orchard which he named Limon & Sons. He and his wife Maria live in East Wenatchee.

 

Former farm worker finds success and an orchard of his own

The story of longtime Douglas County resident Jesus Limon represents the fulfilling of the American Dream for an immigrant family. It starts with a boy growing up on a small, subsistence farm in Mexico and moves to a farm worker in the U.S., a manager at an orchard and finally an orchard owner.

Limon was born in 1957 and spent his early years on a farm in a town outside of Guadalajara, Mexico.

His family grew corn, beans, cane and other staple crops, and raised chickens, pigs and cows for their own consumption. Limon’s mother passed away in 1969 when he was 12.

His father had come to the U.S. a few years before to work in the Bracero program for farm workers from Mexico. After his mother passed away, Limon and his siblings stayed with his grandfather for several years, but by 1973 Limon’s father had obtained a green card and returned to Mexico to bring his children back to the U.S.

Limon arrived in Los Angeles in 1974, at the age of 17, and did farm work in Southern California for several years, including picking celery, lemons and oranges.

Soon he met the woman who was to become his wife, but at the time she was still under age. The couple wanted to marry, and so they ran away from people who knew them. Limon said he planned to move to Canada, but instead he came to the Wenatchee Valley and liked it so much that he has stayed for the rest of his life.

Limon got his first job in this area at an orchard in Monitor. He and his wife Maria were given a cabin and Limon worked propping trees, thinning and picking fruit and doing other orchard tasks. Maria helped with the picking and thinning.

At that time, Limon earned $3.25 per hour for propping. He was paid $7 a bin for the fruit he picked. He was usually able to pick between four and six bins a day.

The earnings don’t sound like much, but the money went a long way in those days. The couple could buy all the groceries they needed for a week for $30-$40. About every other week they were able to go to the theater to watch a movie together. Tickets were $1 each.

Of course the work was hard, but Limon had worked hard on his family farm since he was a boy.

“I was used to hard work, so for me that didn’t bother me,” Limon said.

The couple moved to a variety of area orchards in the following years and then Limon made a bet that seemed to set the tone for his future.

He got into a disagreement with a co-worker about whether a Hispanic farm worker could ever become a manager at an orchard. Limon thought that if one worked hard enough he would be given the chance to rise to a management position; his coworker thought that this would never happen. The disagreement was resolved with a bet of $50.

“Because of a bet, I went to work for Auvil Fruit Company,” Limon said.

He worked on the crew for one season and at the end of the season he was given the chance to start running crews. He stayed with the company many years and was given more responsibility.

In 1988, he found 10 acres of sagebrush near Brays Landing Road for sale at an affordable price. He cleared the land and was able to plant half the acres in orchard trees from the family savings. The next year he was able to plant the rest.

He still worked full-time at Auvil, so he had to do everything with his own orchard on the evenings and weekends.

The Alar scare hit the apple growing industry in 1992, with the effect that the price of orchard land plummeted. Limon was able to purchase another 30 acres of land near Weimer Road in Orondo with the help of a Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan.

He named his orchard Limon & Sons Orchard.

The year after he bought this additional land, prices were bad and he lost around $50,000. The FSA moved that year’s payment to the back end of the loan to help him get through the year. Prices were back up the following year, and Limon reduced his personal income from the orchard as a way to help him recover. The following year the orchard had caught up again.

Limon said that his orchard has lost money three times between then and now, but he has used the good years to help it keep growing, reinvesting to avoid a heavy tax hit.

Limon got into organic farming when a neighbor wanted to farm organically and asked if he was willing to go organic with a few adjacent rows. He did and the prices he was able to obtain for the fruit convinced him to move all of his apples to organic production. Limon also grows cherries, but he doesn’t like to grow them organically because that is quite complicated and expensive.

Limon started getting involved in the community during his time of employment at Auvil. He was on the board of directors of a number of organizations, including the Migrant Health Clinic, Dollars for Scholars and the Blue Bird co-operative warehouse. He was on the FSA County Committee for nine years and has now started his ninth year on the FSA State Committee. This committee provides producer input for federal farm programs.

In 2002, Limon was asked to be one of two producer representatives from Washington state to participate in drafting the year’s Farm Bill.

Limon stayed with Auvil until the mid 1990s when it became too much to handle both his paying job and the management of his own orchard.

In 2006, Limon began buying orchard land in Quincy, and in 2017 he decided to sell his Orondo orchard and move all of his production to Quincy. He now has 110 acres planted in Quincy and is planning to plant another 70 in 2019. Limon said that when he had the land in both Orondo and Quincy he would have to travel between the two once or even twice a day. He wanted to reduce that travel time by consolidating his orchard land.

The Limons have four sons: Jesus, Jose, Eric and Carlos. All four attended Orondo School. Jesus attended Waterville High School and the other three boys attended Eastmont High School.

The Limons were active in the parent group at Orondo School while their children were studying there.

“I think that was one of the best places for my kids to grow up,” Limon said of Orondo.

He and Maria kept the children involved with work and sports, so they were too busy to get into trouble. They always pushed the boys to do well in school, and Limon admits that they surpassed his expectations. He thought it would be great if one or two of them would go to college — instead they all did.

Limon said that he feels that his immigration to the U.S. gave his children choices and opportunities that he never had.

Limon took on another form of community involvement when he was asked to be assistant coach for Jose’s soccer team, which competed in a state league. When the head coach could no longer serve, Limon became head coach until the team completed its last year with the league as the players reached the age of 19.

Jesus studied computer science, but was given a good job in airplane design before he earned his degree. Jose has a business degree and is loan manager for the FSA office in Wenatchee; Eric has a business degree and works for Wells Fargo; and Carlos has an electrical engineering degree and works for the Avista Corporation.

Asked if any of his sons may want to take over his orchard when he retires, Limon said that as to retirement his children say that he will be working in the orchard until his last day.

“That’s my world,” he said.

As to his children, time will tell if it will be a part of their career picture.

Jesus and Maria Limon now live in East Wenatchee.