Saturday, November 19, 2011
When Manuel Jimenez first set eyes on the land below a levee, the one-time field worker envisioned a place where youngsters could escape the temptations of gang life and learn about the Central Valley's most vital industry.
Over the past seven years, Jimenez enlisted hundreds of young volunteers and turned 14 acres in the Tulare County town of Woodlake into lush gardens of vines, vegetables and fruit trees.
Best known for its annual rodeo, Woodlake, population 7,280, struggles with gang violence and poverty.
Jimenez, a lifetime resident who works as a small farm adviser, and his wife Olga taught the children farming techniques, work habits and communication skills to prepare them for jobs or college.
The local police chief credits the program, Woodlake Pride, with helping fight local gang crime.