By Trudy Wischemann
(Editor’s note: This article was previously published in Tulare County’s Foothills Sun-Gazette on Oct. 7, 2015.)
I was bottle-feeding a kitten on the back step when I heard Paul Buxman’s voice talking into the answering machine last Tuesday. I caught the phone before he finished, wanting to catch whatever wave he was riding. This one was tidal.
“Do you know the name Will Scott Jr.?” he asked. A two-second mental search produced 149 entries for “Will,” “Scott” and “Jr.” but zero for all three together. When Paul told me some of the details, however, I realized I’d been clipping articles on Will for years.
Will Scott Jr. is a Black organic small-scale farmer near Raisin City who’s been actively getting people back on the land, particularly other Black farmers and Fresno’s urban youth. He started farming 45 acres after he retired from the phone company, growing vegetables once common in the diets of rural Black people that had kept them healthy, selling them at the Mandela farmers market in Oakland where those now-urban Black folks could benefit. He organized Black farmers in the Fresno area to provide much-needed support and began training Black youth to farm, reclaiming the invaluable parts of their rural roots. (Visit www.scottfamilyfarms.net to see some of his efforts.)
But now his well is going dry. This year, he was able to farm only five of his 45 acres, and his future looks bad. Featured recently as one of the “Faces of the Drought,” he was quoted as saying, “We’re on the verge of losing a lot.”
I don’t think he was referring simply to himself. The loss of too many of our remaining small farms in this drought, with its uncertainties of water supply in the future, and the groundwater robbers and high-dollar land speculators acting like vultures, has been giving me nightmares 24/7, but that awareness is largely missing in the media. I think his sentence captures it perfectly.
But Buxman saw or heard that sentence and the facts about his well, and it lit his jets. Paul doesn’t need a burning bush to get his attention: the fire burns inside him, fuels his every step. This one started him on a marathon, and if we follow his lead, we’re all going to finish first.
“We can’t lose this man,” he said. “We’re going to raise $40,000 to deepen his well, and this is how we’re going to do it. I’m going to offer signed and numbered lithographs of four of my paintings, one for each foot of well drilled, which is around $50. All we need is to get the word out,” noting that’s where I come in.
But before I could get one word on paper, Paul had recruited Alice Daniel of NPR’s California Report and Dale Yurong of Channel 30 Action News (to view Yurong’s beautiful piece, go to www.abc30.com and look for “Drought Hasn’t Dried Up Dinuba Farmer’s Generous Spirit”). Thirty minutes after Yurong’s piece aired on TV Wednesday, a man drove to Paul’s house with a $100 check. “I hope this primes the pump,” he said seriously. He went home with two Buxman lithographs, portrayals of the very human landscape we’re trying to save. I have no doubt that, before this is over, we’ll be able to drill a well to China if we have to.
Why would Buxman go to this level? Let’s just say it takes one to know one. Paul began farming organically when he discovered too many friends with cancer. He organized small family farmers needing support into a marketing co-op called “California Clean,” whose motto is “We won’t charge you extra for not poisoning your food.” He’s taught urban youth the joys of farming, painting and cooking on his Sweet Home Ranch with his wife Ruth, and participated in innumerable festivals, conferences and workshops concerned for our agrarian future, including the Forum on Church and Land in 1992 (which I have mentioned in this column more than once).
How deep will we go? Together, it won’t take much to Drill for Will the well he needs to keep going. If you’d love to help and have a piece of this beautiful history to hang on your wall, visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot. com for up-to-the-minute news. As Paul said, in this drought it’s not hard to paint yourself into a corner, but maybe we can paint Will, literally, out of this one.
Trudy Wischemann is a rural advocate who is grateful for this ray of hope. You can send your rays to her c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay, CA, 93247, or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com.