Whatever else a farmer plants, he's almost sure to harvest a bit of heartache. Even a bumper crop must contend with an insect invasion, or the rain that comes too early, or too late.
At Kretschmann Farms, an organic spread outside Zelienople that maintains a popular CSA subscription for area residents, this year's hardship is that Erasmo Trejo has gone home, perhaps for good.
For the past 20 years, Trejo has been one of Don and Becky Kretschmann's most beloved employees. But he was sidelined this summer by a heart attack. No one discovered the arterial blockage until Trejo didn't show up for work one day -- "which was very unusual," says Don Kretschmann. Now Trejo is convalescing in Mexico, perhaps permanently. And Kretschmann has to find a replacement.
It won't be easy. "Erasmo has always been a trickster," Kretschmann says. "He had a whole line about a brother-in-law who never had to work, because a pig dug up Aztec gold in his yard. And I believed him." Kretschmann has visited Trejo's farm in Mexico -- during the winters, Trejo tended his own plot northwest of Mexico City -- and can reel of the names of Trejo's five children.
"We've been relearning how to tie tomatoes," Kretschmann says. "Erasmo could shoot up and down the rows, but you really have to get the hang of it. And I was just thinking this week -- the tomatoes are starting to get diseased, and Erasmo would have been the first to notice."
We tend to think of farm laborers as unskilled, because most of us have never tried hiring one. "It's a rare American who really understands farming," says Kretchsmann, who adds that when Americans debate immigration, they "ought to know that without these workers, the work isn't going to get done."
Trejo himself never wanted to be an American, though he could have sought citizenship. "Erasmo was fully a Mexican, and he had different perspectives on the permissiveness of our society," Kretschmann says. Trejo even referred to el Norte as "Nuevo Babylonia" -- New Babylon.
"In fact, one of the greatest compliments Erasmo ever paid me," Kretschmann adds, "was, ‘Tu no eres gringo' -- you are not a gringo."
And what Kretschmann will miss most, he says, is having someone around who understood the farm as well as he did. "Erasmo didn't like to be the boss," Kretschmann says. "He just always set the pace."