Valley Voices

Letters from Lewis Creek: Some dreams aren’t pipe dreams

“Approaching Rain” by Paul Buxman
“Approaching Rain” by Paul Buxman Special to The Bee

“She sounds kind of angry,” someone responded after reading my last Letter from Lewis Creek about spraying weeds. That surprised me. I thought I’d gone below anger to my pain from losing yet another small farm, one I loved and knew intimately.

It’s a piped ream, you know, saving small farms – or so I’ve been told. The forces working against it are relentless, never sleep. Most of the public (in this case meaning American eaters) have forgotten where food comes from or what it means to coax it from the soil with water and light – which means they’re not terribly recruitable in fighting for this cause. Then there’s Mother Nature, who has given us a taste of our own medicine these last four years, withholding the water we need to survive.

“I had a nightmare last night,” said Paul Buxman, one of my favorite small farmers, in a morning phone call last fall. We were strategizing our next move in saving Will Scott Jr., another small farmer whose wells were sucking air and sand, and whose 40 acres planted with vegetables and beans had shrunk to the size of a garden as a result.

Paul’s nightmare turned out to be the same one many farmers have had these past two years, those dependent on wells. “Some big guy was drilling a new well just the other side of my fence. I knew it was going to dry up my wells and I’d lose the farm. I woke up sweating.” Attempting a little humor, Paul added “And I don’t even have a fence.” A bad “pipe dream.” Very bad.

Saving Will Scott Jr., however, is a good piped ream, one we’re asking you to join and make a reality. This dream also started in the night, a searing concern Paul felt after hearing news that his fellow agrarian was in danger of going out of business.

You’d have to know a little about Will to feel the spear point in your heart like Paul felt in his. Will’s a powerhouse of vision and leadership. He started farming 40 acres near Raisin City after he retired from the phone company, when most folks simply dream of starting a garden or going fishing. He grows vegetables and beans that black folks need in their diets, and then takes them to scruffy farmers markets in the urban ghettos of Fresno and Oakland, where fresh food of any kind is hard to come by. He started the African American Farmers of California to encourage more black folks to live on and from the land, providing training and equipment as well as financial support. And he started a 16-acre experimental garden to give Fresno’s black youth a taste for black fresh cuisine as well as independent yeomanry. What’s not to love?

“We can’t afford to lose this man,” Paul explained as he lined out his proposal to save him. Offering a drawer full of Buxman lithographs as bait, Paul did the math and arrived at the conclusion that enough people would cough up $50 in trade for a piece of his art to raise the $50,000 needed to deepen Will’s two wells. In his mind it added up, not to a pipe dream, but a perfect solution. And he’s been right.

Half an hour after the first television news story was aired, a neighbor drove up the Buxmans’ driveway with a check for $100 and drove off with two lithographs of Paul’s priceless renderings of our small farm landscapes. “I hope this primes the pump,” the neighbor said, pun intended, and it did. Water from the well of generosity began to flow.

All through the fall, with only a handful of events and appearances at church gatherings, more than $12,000 was raised, about one-fourth of the money needed. Then the rains came with the holidays, providing sighs of relief and rest.

But with the farm work of spring right around the corner, it’s time to push like the buds on the fruit trees. I’ll make you a deal: You send a contribution for Will Scott’s wells, and we’ll let you know where you can pick up your signed, numbered, backed and shrink-wrapped honest-to-God Paul Buxman lithograph.

There are five different images. Three are 18-by-24 inches (worth $500 apiece on the KVPR auction block); a contribution of $75 will get you one of those. Two are 16-by-20 inches, which we’ll trade for only $50 each. They’re all ready for framing. And every time you look at this beautiful Buxman image on your wall, you can remember that you were a part of saving a small family farmer this community can’t afford to lose.

More important is the reminder that some dreams aren’t pipe dreams after all.

Trudy Wischemann is a writer and agrarian activist in Lindsay.

Drill for Will

What: Friends of Fresno small farmer Will Scott Jr. are raising money to drill two new wells.

Fundraising: They’re selling Paul Buxman lithographs for $50 and $75 each.

How you can help: Make your check out to Will Scott Jr., with “Drill for Will” or “well fund” written in the memo space. Send the check to Paul Buxman, Sweet Home Ranch, 4399 Ave. 400, Dinuba, CA 93618. For more information, call 559-897-7547 or visit