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BEACON Senior News

Farming is in his blood: Jim Bernal passes traditions on to growing family

Jan 04, 2017 12:13PM ● By Melanie Wiseman

At first glance, the corner of 16 and Q Roads in north Loma seems serene against the majestic Bookcliffs. Take a closer look and you will find a flurry of activity.

At the center of the activity is 88-year-old Jim Bernal, a man of high integrity, a firm handshake and a spirit of gratefulness and joy. Bernal knows the value of hard work—up until last year, he was actively farming the more than 700 acres he owns.

“I was on a tractor just yesterday as a matter of fact, and I still keep an eye on the books,” he said. “I don’t want to just sit down and watch.”

Finding Grand Junction

At the beginning of the 20th century, money was tight and education slim, but hard work and farming smart paid off for Bernal’s father, Joe. In the mid 1920s he sold his 80-acre farm in Hone, Colorado for $300, a small fortune at the time.

“My dad read a lot about the Highline Canal, which opened in 1912,” said Bernal. “In 1925 he and six other relatives, including my grandparents, traveled together with their gear in a 1922 Essex, taking four days through the mountains to get here. They were pretty brave. They had never been here before, had no maps and only knew Grand Junction was on the western side of Colorado.”

The family settled into one of many colonies in the north Loma area, where workers were housed until they earned enough money to rent on their own. Their hard work paid off and after just a few months, Joe returned to the San Luis Valley and loaded a railroad car with horses and an old wagon used for hauling beets to be shipped to Grand Junction.

Joe married Placida Lucero in 1927 at the old brick Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Fruita, also where Bernal was baptized the following year.

“My family leased various houses in the area and farmed using a walking plow for years,” said Bernal. “But we felt wealthy because we always had enough to eat.”

His childhood was similar to those of other farm kids, spent swimming in the canal and helping with chores. There was one big difference, however.

“I grew up speaking Spanish,” Bernal said. “So when I started school, I spoke very little English. The hardest thing in my life was the discrimination I experienced and the names I was called. But my parents said, ‘You are as good as anyone else,’ and I had some very kind teachers who encouraged me. In six months, I was speaking English like everybody else.”

Bernal said he excelled in school, graduating from Fruita Union High School in 1947.

Service and devotion to home

Bernal farmed with his father for seven years after high school before being drafted into the Korean War. While in Denver for an Army physical, Bernal had a chance meeting with a young woman named Helen Lopez, but neglected to get her telephone number.

“I could have lost her!” Bernal said.

He had been stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs for two years as a combat engineer, when chance reunited them once again.

“They would bus in women when we had dances,” said Bernal. “And there she was! It was just one of those things that was meant to be.”

They married in 1954.

“When my service was complete, I wanted to come back and farm. Helen was supportive of whatever endeavor I wanted to take on,” Bernal said. “Things could have been a lot different if Helen hadn’t been so loyal to me and such a beautiful partner.”

After returning to his parents’ farm, Bernal studied agriculture at Mesa College in the evenings, but soon put all of his efforts into farming.

“When you farm you really have to put all your thoughts into it and not mess around,” said Bernal. “You borrow from the bank in the spring to run the farm and you better be able to pay them back in the fall.”

Their first son, Jimmy, was born in 1955, followed by Cindy, Vera, Veronica, David, Donna, Joe and Paul. All eight children went to Loma Grade School and Fruita High School.

Family and farm values

As their family grew, so did the land they owned.

In 1958 the house and farm Bernal was born on came up for sale. With the help of a Fruita banker who believed in them, they were able to buy it. He feels raising his children on a farm provided them with many valuable life lessons.

“Living in the country, you have a better opportunity to show your kids what hard work is, how to be good money managers and what good work ethic is,” said Bernal. “We taught the kids they weren’t going to get anything easy, even though we had the money.”

The Bernal family has grown to eight children, 27 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren, one great-great-grandchild and counting. Family photos are out of date almost as soon as they are taken.

The entire group no longer fits in the Bernal home, so family functions are now held in the farm’s 3,000-square-foot workshop.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Bernal’s passion for tradition. His son Joe and a grandson now manage Bernal Farms, growing alfalfa, corn and winter wheat.

“Helen and I could have sold this farm for a million dollars and traveled, but I don’t want to sell it,” said Bernal, choking back tears. “I want it for the kids.”

With one son running the farm, four others living a stone’s throw away, and three in nearby Grand Junction, the Bernals have built a lasting legacy.

“We’ve had a good life here. I have no regrets,” said Bernal. “My dream is that the farm stays in the family through the generations.”