In the Life of Grower Walt Lehrman
Farming goes back many generations for grower/packer Walt Lehrman. Walt’s story is unique because on his mother’s side, he is the second generation here in the United States. His mom immigrated here much later then many other farming families in this area. His father, Melvin was an engineer but loved to farm. He had a 27-acre farm that had peaches and plums on it. It wasn’t his full time job, but it added some income to get by. Melvin also used the farm to teach the boys in the family what hard work meant. Walt remembers his father teaching him how to drive tractor and use a shovel. Walt would say his first job outside of working on the family’s 27 acres was gathering eggs for his Uncle Pete.
Walt’s first year working in a packinghouse was when he was in high school. His job was to staple the boxes together. He worked for a distant relative who wasn’t keen on cutting anyone too much slack. Walt can remember planning a backpacking trip with his brothers before school started. Things didn’t seem to go as planned when he found out the season was going later then usual. There was one day of work left when Walt was supposed to leave for his trip. His boss had a way with words that convinced Walt that he should stay for that last day of work. Backpacking could wait for another time.
Walt worked hard through high school in his studies, as well as the jobs he held during that time. After high school he was proud to attend Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. Here, he got his degree in Ag Business. After college he had a few odd jobs before he started working as a Pest Control Advisor. He worked as a PCA from 1981-2002, selling products and making connections in the agriculture world here in the Valley. In 1999 he bought the packing operation he still runs today, as well as 45 acres. The first year was memorable because the loan for packing operation (which included a new house for his family) fell through. They didn’t own their old home anymore leaving them virtually homeless. Thankfully, Walt knew the previous owners and they gave him grace. They knew he would get everything squared away so they allowed Walt and his family to move into the house, and pack kiwis in an operation that wasn’t technically theirs. Everything fell into place, and he is so thankful for the faith the previous owners had in him. He worked as a PCA and a farmer at the same time for 3 years. Walt had a steep learning curve when he started farming. He had to learn to coordinate all the picking and packing, as well as learn farming practices that worked best. In 2001 a devastating hailstorm ripped through the Valley. Much of Walt’s crop was damaged in the storm. Right when Walt was feeling like he was learning how this farming thing worked, something out of his control changed everything. Walt laughs when he talks about this, because he was still working as a PCA. He said, “I was so glad to still have a day job.” He knew the other job would help cover the losses.
Today, Walt has weathered many storms and has really flourished as a farmer. He plain loves growing tree fruit. He loves trying new things to find the best practice for growing the best fruit. He loves making a goal to grow better fruit every year. He says trying new things to make it the best it can be is what makes his job fun. He also loves working with his son, Josh Lehrman, who plans on carrying on the family business. His favorite fruit is the nectarine and the varieties he enjoys most are Honey Kist and Honey Blaze. Walt says farming is difficult because there’s much out of his control. The weather can take away all the hard work you’ve put in for the perfect crop. He says it’s also difficult knowing whether or not he has the product that people want. But we all know that he farms with such passion and hard work that you can almost taste it in the fruit he grows. When there’s that much passion and love for growing for Summeripe, there’s no doubt people will want what Walt grows.