Grand Junction farmer mentors next generation

Zay Lopez, left, responded to Bob Beasleys Craigslist ad to sell a tractor, and within an hour of meeting each other, Beasley offered to have Lopez farm his three-acre plot. Now, Beasley mentors Lopez in farming. Enlarge photo

CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON, The Daily Sentinel/Associat

Zay Lopez, left, responded to Bob Beasleys Craigslist ad to sell a tractor, and within an hour of meeting each other, Beasley offered to have Lopez farm his three-acre plot. Now, Beasley mentors Lopez in farming.

GRAND JUNCTION (AP) The Craigslist ad offered a 1989 Case International tractor for sale. That was, coincidentally, the same year Zay Lopez was born.

Anyway, Lopez wanted a tractor. Maybe not that one specifically, but a tractor to do the job. He was making the leap into the mostly unknown. It was time, a now-or-never situation, and his dream included farm equipment.

So, this guy, this 23 years old, still wet behind the ears, made an appointment with Bob Beasley to come out and look at the tractor. Lopez and his girlfriend drove to Beasleys Grand Junction home, and in the moments afterward, after Lopez bought the tractor, seeds of possibility were planted.

Its funny how we clicked right away, Lopez said on a recent morning, standing in tree shade with Beasley.

Hes 23 years old, but hes a serious young man, Beasley said. That was my initial impression: a focused man, just a good person.

They stood companionably Lopez leaning on shovel handle, Beasley listening as Lopez explained his dream. The words, though, were almost supplemental, because the dream extended in rows across more than 7 acres before them: Lopez wants to be a farmer.

This is not a typical dream for a 23-year-old. A lawyer, a doctor, a graphic designer this is what you expect to hear, the career trajectories you expect to see. Farming is something someone else does, even in an area as agricultural as western Colorado.

Usually, you grow up on a farm, Lopez said. Farming is passed down from generation to generation.

Within an hour of meeting each other, Beasley said to Lopez, Why dont you farm my land?

Beasley, who turned 72 this year and last year retired from 44 years in the flooring business, hadnt planned to farm his 3-acre plot on this summer. Hed had back surgery last year and was looking forward to relaxing.

So, here was this young man, eager to learn, willing to work hard, unafraid to take blind steps into the unknown, and Beasley had a lifetime of farming to teach. Beasley calls himself Lopezs helper. Lopez says Beasley is his mentor and one of his best friends.

I feel like Ive known him my whole life, Lopez said, though its been just months. Beasley nodded in agreement.

They have such a great relationship, said Darla Beasley, Bobs wife. I said to Bob, How blessed are we that he was brought into our lives? Hes a good, sincere person, hes interested, hes likable, hes got a good personality. And he really wants to learn.

So much of farming is old-school. Its dying off, its becoming a lost art. If you dont have somebody to carry it on, itll be lost.

Lopez did not grow up on a farm. In fact, he grew up in Reston, Va., an upper-middle-class suburb of Washington, D.C. His father, John, was a 35-year employee of the U.S. Forest Service. He grew up playing football and wrestling and dreaming.

Ever since he was a little kid, he was a dreamer, said his mother, Linda. Hes come up with these ideas, and we knew that one day hed pursue one of them. Hes not really materialistic and never has been. He just wants to love what hes doing and be successful enough to make a living.

Lopez came to Mesa State for college because he thought Grand Junction seemed like a nice place.

It was as he was getting to know the Grand Valley that his interest in agriculture began growing. The summer after his freshman year, he called every orchard in the phone book and had no success until his last call, to Zs Orchards and Produce. Owner Richard Skaer hired him as a general worker: He weeded, thinned, picked, went to farmers markets and did whatever else was needed.

I loved it, Lopez said. It just fascinated me. Its amazing to me how you can plant a seed and see it grow.

Lopez worked at Zs Orchards for three summers.

After graduating last year with a degree in sports management, Lopez worked a few jobs but always thought about farming. The small plot he planted in Palisade just wasnt enough.

His parents gave him a loan. He bought the tractor. And then, in May, Beasleys offer: Farm my land.

Dave Amico, who owns the four-acre plot next door, made the same offer, with the agreement being that hell get paid in fresh produce.

Everybody is rooting for Lopezs success, Beasley said, not just because theyre encouraged to see a young person choose farming, but because hes so personable, so willing to learn and listen.

I dont worry about him at all, Linda Lopez said. Hes really good at making connections with people and they care about him because he cares about them. They want him to be successful. Were all rooting for him.

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