By Anthony Gladden
It’s 6 o’clock in the morning and while most young adults in their mid-20s are still in bed resting, Alfredo Kelevra Vigil, known to friends as Jose, has already spent almost an hour on his fruit farm.
It’s a farm that Vigil’s parents, Julio and Maria, started nearly 24 years ago. The farm began with aspirations of the kind of productivity that can only be achieved through years of hard work, determination and love for growing things. Now, more than two decades later, this dream is continuing through the 25-year-old Vigil.
Vigil owns 80 acres of farmland in Lawton. Twenty-six years ago, the land was 80 acres of trees and space for raising hogs. It now grows 50 acres of grapes and 30 acres of woods.
Vigil was born in America to immigrant parents and grew up knowing only one thing: Farming. And when he was old enough to understand the meaning of work, his father put him to it.
As a boy, Vigil followed his father around the farm trying to help with whatever he could, from making wires to stand the grape vines up straight, to helping plant fertilizer. Now he is the big guy in charge of everything and runs the fields like he started it and not his father. “I’ve been out on the farm ever since I can remember,” Vigil said. “It’s something I knew I would like to continue doing the rest of my life, just like my dad.”
Vigil, being the son that took most interest in the farm when younger, landed him in the spot he is in now. His father gave him the farm when he was 18 years old, hoping that he would continue working and keep the growing. That’s just what happened. And now, with some help from his father and brothers, he’s done everything his father has hoped for.
Julio, Jose’s brother, says Vigil keeps to himself. “He’s either out there alone, or with puppy Kimbo. I’m the mechanic so I stay in the barn. If he ever needs my help I’m here for him, (but) that’s a rare occasion.”
Vigil works many days from sun up to sun down, with little breaks here and there. From setting up the sprinklers to running the grape picker, Vigil does it all. Vigil gets little help from family members and hired staffs, the multi-person jobs are done mainly by one person.
“It’s great to hire people to help,” Vigil said. “But it’s no help when I’ve been doing it a certain way for over 20 years and someone new comes along with no idea how things run. So I keep close–family or no help at all.”
When Vigil wakes on a recent early spring day, he’s straight to working the weed whacker. This job involves separating the grape vines row by row, leaving only grass and weeds in between. Sometimes, the grass and weeds spread into the grapevines, which can cause grapes to contain less sugar and end up unsellable.
The tedious job of riding the weed whacker for about two and a half hours has to be done right or crops – and money — are lost. At about 4 mph, riding for two and a half hours can seem like four.
“I don’t really listen to music when I ride because the whacker is so loud,” Vigil said. “I just let the whacker play its own music.”
Being in the fields alone can take its toll on the young farmer. Some days the temperature can reach high 90s and feels like triple digits when under the sun all day.
It gets boring all day alone in the fields so Vigil keeps Kimbo, a 4-month-old black lab by his side for games of fetch.
With four brothers, Vigil is the only son who decided to spin off from his parent’s farm and expanded the family business. The farm gross pay brings in about $200,000 a year. Vigil has a contract with Welch’s and Niagara wine for the grapes he produces. On top of that he also sells the grapes alongside the road to neighbors and friends.
“I’m so proud of my son, my sons, all of them,” said Maria, Jose’s mom. “But I’m extra proud of Jose. Without him I have no idea where we would be. He’s truly a blessing.”