Editor’s note: In the last Oro Loma Nomad, the writer, a native of Oro Loma and graduate of Dos Palos High School, told of her Peace Corps assignment to Honduras. She continues today with more of her Honduran adventures.
The city of Firebaugh recently celebrated its annual Cantaloupe Roundup, a festival that has gone on for decades, interrupted only in 2020 by the pandemic. Memories of past cantaloupe festivals brought other memories to my siblings and me, namely about the melon growers from our childhood years who, over time, have become known as legendary visionaries.
Two such growers were our father, Joe Del Bosque, and Sam Hamburg. Sam was a pioneer farmer in large-scale agriculture in the area of Oro Loma, south of Los Banos. Joe Del Bosque was general manager of Three Star Farms adjacent to the Sam Hamburg Farms. Reminiscing about these two innovating melon farmers brought to mind a visit I made to Tel Aviv.
In the year 2000, shortly after I retired from the U.S. Foreign Service and returned to my roots in Oro Loma, my husband Bastiaan Schouten, also retired from the Foreign Service, he was contracted to do an evaluation of a U.S.-funded project for Palestinians living in the West Bank.
I accompanied Bastiaan on that trip. We stayed in a five-star hotel in Tel Aviv. While he was away during the day working on the evaluation, I stayed at the hotel and spent my days as a tourist.
“Excuse me. Excuse me.” I was trying to get the attention of the hotel staff at the reception desk. Though no other hotel guest was there, the staff seemed to ignore me. I resorted to ringing the bell on the counter to get their attention and assistance in exchanging dollars for shekels.
After several days, it became clear to me that whenever I was alone in the lobby or went to the reception desk to ask for something, the hotel staff would ignore me. I later found out that they thought I was an Arab.
One morning, a waiter heard me telling another guest at the hotel that I was from California and had Mexican ancestry. The waiter apparently told the hotel manager that I was not an Arab. The manager came to me and asked if I would like some coffee or anything else. I thanked him and politely declined.
The manager then asked, “Madam, I have heard you are from California. Is that true?” I said yes.
“By chance, do you know Sam Hamburg?” Though I was not expecting that question, it did not surprise me.
“Yes, I do know of Sam Hamburg,” I said. I related to the hotel manager that Sam Hamburg and my father were neighboring farmers and friends. I also shared that Sam and my father taught many Israeli agronomy students who were flown out for years to learn innovative farming methods and irrigation practices from the two farmers.
The hotel manager listened enthusiastically and asked me more questions about Sam Hamburg. I explained that Sam was known as a man who had high expectations of work performance from his workers and rewarded them with benevolent treatment. He and my father shared those traits.
I chatted with the hotel manager for quite a while.
I related that my father told me that in the mid-to-late 1960’s, Moishe Dayan, the great Israeli military commander and politician, went out to Sam’s farm to visit him and to thank him for all he was doing for the development of Israel’s agriculture.
“Tell me more,” the manager would say. I told him anecdotes that I had heard mostly from my father. I noted that Sam lived in a modest house on his farm, among the houses for his workers. Hamburg Farms had the look of a plantation, with numerous worker houses, a store, agricultural mechanic shops, and equipment yards.
“What about his family?” asked the manager. I told him that Sam had a son, Aron, and two daughters. Sam’s wife and daughters lived in Berkeley, and Aron went to live on the farm after he finished his university studies.
“What happened to Sam’s farm? Did Aron take over its management?” The manager kept plowing me with questions. “Sam decided to sell his farm because his health was declining and he was bed-ridden in the last years of his life.” I added, “Aron was not trained in agronomy and could not take over the ranch, which was finally sold in 1972. Tragically, Aron died in a house fire in 1975, and Sam passed away in 1976. That was the end of Sam Hamburg and the iconic Sam Hamburg Farms.”
The hotel manager took a deep breath and sighed. He thanked me for sharing my anecdotes about Sam Hamburg. He also apologized to me for the inattentive staff.
Over the last century Oro Loma has given birth or nurtured individuals who stood out for their tenacity, intelligence, creativity, and benevolence. Sam Hamburg was such a man. He was not only a well-known farmer in the westside and a beloved benefactor to the state of Israel, but 46 years after his death, Sam Hamburg is still remembered at Firebaugh’s Cantaloupe Roundup.