Farming with a Passion

The owners of Bertagna Orchards, Berton and Ben Bertagna, in front of an almond hull pile.
The owners of Bertagna Orchards, Berton and Ben Bertagna, in front of an almond hull pile.
You just have to meet this farmer Ben Bertagna!  Not just because he’s Maisie Jane’s father, but because of his knowledge and true passion for farming.  When asked, ‘how long have you been farming?’ he laughs and says, “ever since my dad put wood blocks on the tractor pedals so I could reach and drive”.  Being born in 1948 one can put a confident 53 years behind Ben’s worn leather work belt for experience.

He grew up being the oldest son of three in Chico, CA helping his father start is almond farming operation. With having farming in his blood, he continues to farm in Chico and the rural areas, now in partners with his oldest son, Berton.  They farm over five hundred acres and lease and custom farm hundreds more acres.  The majority of that acreage they farm is almonds but they are certainly diversified by adding walnuts, beans, vegetables, sunflowers, and other crops grown for seed to the mix.

Another big aspect to their farming operation is they own and operate an almond Huller and Sheller plant.  This is a processing plant that receives almonds from their orchards and many other neighboring farmers’, (which at this stage includes the dirt, rocks, sticks, and all other foreign material that comes in from harvesting the orchards).  At the end of the processing you get the cleaned almond ‘meats’ packed in 2,000lb. bins.   On average, they process 6,000 tons of hulled and shelled ‘meat’ pounds of almonds at harvest.

You can tell by Ben’s positive attitude, light-heartedness, and spring in his step that he is a farmer with a passion.  He says, “I love the farming way of life. It’s rewarding starting from nothing, watching it grow, and then see it mature to harvest.  The whole process is a miracle.”  Ben’s favorite time of year in farming is spring.  He says, “I love starting fresh, the beginning of another cycle with the blooms.”

Ben Bertagna checking out his bud set for the next year’s crop.
Ben Bertagna checking out his bud set for the next year’s crop.
Experiencing so many cycles in farming through the years a general philosophy that’s proven successful to Ben is to, “Be in tune with Mother Nature as much as possible”.  When asking Ben what his biggest challenge is farming is, his reply is, “Mother nature and how unpredictable she is”.  Though, to Ben, Mother Nature also presents his biggest reward in farming.  He says, “Dealing with Mother Nature and how unpredictable she is makes life very interesting.  I love waking up NOT knowing what the day will bring.”  He also says that his “farming lifestyle” is one of his biggest rewards.  He loves his life time relationships with his fellow neighboring farmers and the tight agriculture community in Chico.  He’s also grateful for the opportunity he’s had to share his farming life with his four children and offering them jobs on the almond farm during their childhood.  Because of this and by his example, he has instilled in his children, his passion for agriculture and good hard work ethics.  He’s contributed to successfully passing on the farming heritage to the next generation, which is so important these days with the diminishing percent of American farmers succeeding.

Ben says the biggest changes he’s seen in farming, besides the modernization, is the wider gap between farmer and consumers.  He explains, “It used to be that most everyone had a direct connection with a farmer, whether it was a first blood relative or a friend.  Now, there are fewer people with these relationships with farmers.  This is why he likes to share with consumers his farming experiences.  He says, “If consumers knew the challenges and process, they’d appreciate their food more.”