From the Crops to the Classroom

As a young child living in a small home in Mexico City, Esteban Garcia recalls using sun-warmed water from a 5-gallon bucket to bathe. “There were three of us kids and my mom had one for each of us,” he shares. “We grew up in poverty.”

When the family moved to the U.S. in 2000, they found work as pickers in the fields of Santa Maria. Esteban remembers using his small hands to help his family collect strawberries and other seasonal produce starting each morning at 5 am. “My family has done agricultural work as long as I can remember,” Esteban says. “My grandparents grew corn in Mexico and would make tortillas with it, but also used the husks to make beds and supplies."

The work was laborious but for Esteban, it was familiar and, in some ways, comfortable. He remembers picking fruit after graduating high school when his uncle told him he needed to go do something bigger with the opportunity he was afforded. But college is expensive and without a roadmap drawn for him by a previous relative, the idea of pursuing a degree was daunting. He took a leap of faith and enrolled in Fresno State University’s viticulture program, working long hours in addition to his coursework to fund his education.

In 2019, Esteban’s field manager told him about a scholarship for farm workers (the Juan Nevarez Memorial Scholarship) and encouraged him to apply. “I got it three years in a row,” he says. The collective $13,000 he received made it possible for this father of two to attend university — the first in his family to do so. “One day I want to be a vice president or director of operations for a winery,” he explains.

Esteban has gone from being told that he would not graduate high school because his English was not good enough, to holding multiple degrees and certificates in viticulture. This scholarship program helped him fund his educational journey.

Today, you will find this family man living his dream, working on the beautiful hillsides at Seasmoke Vineyards.

Thank you to Aja Goare for featuring his story in the Fall 2022 edition of Edible San Luis Obispo.