Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Kole Upton shucks an ear of corn on his ranch in Madera County. He harvests the corn to make corn nuts.
Kole Upton began farming corn nuts 20 years ago by entering a contract. He had a desire to grow corn nuts and was looking for an opportunity to do so.
“I had been wanting to get into corn nuts,” he said. “They only farm a certain number of acres in the United States.”
Upton lives in Merced County and farms corn nuts for Kraft Foods in Madera County and is a member of the Madera County Farm Bureau.
“He is very knowledgeable and has always been able to adjust his operation to meet the challenges of farming,” said Scott Brown, who works with Upton for Kraft Foods.
Upton, 74, grew up living and working on his father’s farm. He assisted his father by completing tasks such as feeding cows and driving harvesters. Upton said his upbringing instilled certain values in him.
“You get the basic values of hard work, getting up early and being around people,” Upton said. “You don’t complain about it. You don’t whine about it.”
Brown also feels that Upton is an individual with strong morals.
“Kole takes pride in his family,” Brown said. “I definitely like his honesty and straightforwardness.”
When he became older, Upton’s father encouraged him to attend college.
“My dad told me there wasn’t going to be enough land for me to farm. So, I needed to take college prep classes in preparation for a job somewhere else,” Upton said.
Upton then graduated from Stanford University in 1965 with a degree in engineering.
“I always liked math,” Upton said. “Social science seemed like it was based more on opinion than anything else.”
After college, he served in the Air Force for six years. Upton said that while in the Air Force, he interacted with many different individuals.
“I had the opportunity to learn a lot about people,” Upton said. “I really enjoyed the camaraderie.”
During his time in the Air Force, Upton was an avionics officer who managed an avionics repair shop. Avionics are used for aircraft. Upton’s job gave him a sense of fulfillment.
“It just felt like you were accomplishing something,” he said. “I enjoyed it.”
After serving in the Air Force, Upton’s father asked him to return to the farm because he had acquired more land and wanted help managing it.
“I reminded him that when I was growing up he didn’t have me take farm classes,” Upton said.
As a result, Upton’s father taught him how to farm. In addition, Upton said, his prior education helped him in his farming career because it was based in mathematics.
Upton likes farming corn because it is easier to grow and is stronger than other crops.
“Cotton is a wimpy plant. It’s hard to get it up out of the ground,” he said. “Once you get it out of the ground, every bug that comes along takes a bite out of it.”
Upton prefers living on a farm to living in a city.
“It’s in my blood,” he said. “I just like the rural society. You see somebody, they wave to you.”
Furthermore, Upton said, he feels safer living in a more rural area.
“You don’t have to lock your doors at night,” he said. “You just feel more comfortable.”
Upton’s son, Darin Upton, also works on his farm. Darin Upton also appreciates living in a more rural environment.
“You can actually be outside and not confined,” Darin Upton said. “You get to know more of the people. It’s more family friendly.”
In addition, Kole also likes the people of the Central Valley.
“It’s really what America is about,” he said. “A lot of the families here came after the depression [and] after World War II and they started with nothing.”
Upton also likes that agriculture is significantly popular in the Central Valley.
“One of the things we have here in the Valley that I hope we don’t lose is the fact that we have small communities where the farmers live on the land,” he said. “The local market is good and it’s important.”
Upton feels that agriculture is a crucial component to any society. He also believes it makes a society more self-sufficient.
“If you look at history, any society that doesn’t control its own agriculture is doomed. They have to depend on the enemy for the food supply.” he said. “If the enemy turns on you, you’re in bad shape.”
Similar to how Upton’s father taught him about agriculture, he has done so for his son.
“He’s a good dad and a good mentor for farming,” Darin said.