What is in this article?:
• “The big boss, the dean of research, said to me, ‘Go solve problems.’ So, whatever problem they had, I had to take it on.”
• Now 97 years old,Victor Guzman's still at it, still at work most days, breeding new lettuce varieties and figuring ways to help growers solve problems. He officially retired in 1987, but couldn’t leave his work. His job was more than a job — it was a mission, and missions don’t stop with the turn of a calendar page.
VICTOR GUZMAN, at 97,
is still looking for ways
to make better vegetables.
Strong work ethic
“He has a strong work ethic — he’s pushing the envelope all the time,” Roth says. “He has a real passion for it. I have a feeling he’d rather be in the field on a farm than at the station. That’s the kind of guy he is. That’s why he’s been successful.”
Not long after coming to the Glades, Guzman began hearing speculation about what would happen to the area after the rich muck soil oxidized and disappeared. In the 1920’s, fields had muck 16 feet thick; now most fields have 3 feet or less.
“Heavy machinery compacts it, microorganisms eat it. It’s a good media for organisms to grow in. There are places here now with a half-foot of muck. That’s going to produce lots of problems. Controlling water properly is harder. The use of machinery gets difficult. Drainage gets difficult,” he says.
Many people think Gladesagriculture will die as the muck recedes, but Guzman isn’t so sure of that.
His pet project these days is working with cherimoya, a tree that produces fruit with a creamy white flesh that tastes like a blend of banana, pineapple, papaya and strawberry. It is grown in Asia and South and Central America.
Guzman thinks American consumers, with a little encouragement, can develop a taste for it. So might Glades-area farmers.
He is experimenting with grafting cherimoya onto rootstock of Annona glabra (also called swamp apple and monkey apple) a tropical tree that is native to south Florida.
“The glabra will grow in water and produce fruit,” Guzman says. “If we could use it to graft the cherimoya, which has very sweet fruit, we would have a fruit tree that could grow in water.”
When the muck disappears from a field, it might be possible to grow the grafted cherimoya trees in the underlying rock, then flood fields, turning the trees into a fruit crop like oranges or apples.
“The cherimoya fruit is hard and sweet, isn’t easy to bruise, and it can be sent to just about any market,” Guzman says. “Scientifically speaking, we can produce a crop in rock. The glabra and cherimoya have potential. I’m just working on it in my spare time; I have no money for this project. Maybe it’s just an old man talking, but I think it might work.
“Let’s face it, this muck isn’t going to last forever. None is deeper than 4 feet now and most is less than 3 feet. We’ve been having meetings about it since 50 or 60 years ago, asking what are we going to do when it’s gone?
“Some want to turn the area into a recreational center, with boating, swimming and fishing. We already have that with Lake Okeechobee, and how many people make a living from that? We need something like farming that will sustain this area.”
The idea of not growing something here sounds repugnant to Guzman — he doesn’t want to just give up. Fighting back, finding answers, solving problems, after all, is what his life has been about.
Guzman is a bit amused by how surprised people are that he’s still working 25 years after his official retirement. To him, the reason is obvious and should surprise no one.
“I’m working for farmers. I came back for the farmers. I felt they need me. And they want me. So why not? What else am I going to do with my time?”