Mendez Brothers: Immigrants, Farm Workers, Farm Owners

It was a cold and rainy morning when I met Tino and Fidel Mendez in their shop just west of Otto. The rain and snow had brought the fieldwork to a stop and so it was the perfect time for them to talk.

“I wish we had the barley planted,” Tino said. “But things happen. It will be OK.”

The eternal optimism that makes a farmer keep on farming.

Ag Week“What brought you here to farm?” I asked him.

“I didn’t really come to the United States planning to stay,” said Tino Mendez. “I came to stay a few years, see what it was like and then go back to Mexico.”

That was nearly 30 years ago and Tino and his brother Fidel are still here. They came as immigrant workers, got their green cards, followed the protocol and became citizens.

“First they gave us a card for one year, then a card for three years, then a card for 10 years,” said Tino. “After we had the last card for five years we could apply for citizenship.”

They worked in Oregon for a while and then came to the Big Horn Basin and started working in agriculture. They spent 15 years working for various farmers on Emblem Bench before that fateful day when they sat at dinner and decided it was time to start working for themselves.

“We were having dinner one day, when Fidel and I started talking about all of the hours we were spending working for someone else,” Tino said. “We shared a dream of becoming farmers in our own right. We knew what to do, we knew how to farm. What we needed help with was how to get started.”

Then they talked to a friend, the late Tony Vigil. He offered to lease part of his farm to them and helped them go to the right places to get the loans to buy the equipment they needed to get started.

Soon they were buying equipment here and there, all the while still working for other farmers, and on their days off they were working the fields they hoped to farm the next spring.

That was the beginning of Mendez Brothers. Now the brothers own some land, and rent a lot more; this year they will be farming over 2,000 acres. They raise malt barley, sugar beets and pinto beans. They tried corn once, but had some trouble with it and haven’t tried it since. “We may try it again in a few years,” Tino said.

They are grateful to the landowners who have trusted them to farm the land.

“We are grateful to the people who trust us,” Tino said. “Without them we couldn’t be the farmers we are. It is humbling to know they trust us.”

The Mendez Brothers have worked hard and proved that there is still opportunity in the United States.

“Nothing is impossible here,” Tino says. “Our motto is whatever happens don’t turn around, just keep going forward. This country has a lot of promise.”

But it does take work.

“Farming is hard work. But it is a good living. We like to see things grow.”

So through hard work, good management and a lot of optimism, the Mendez brothers have become everything they hoped to be.

By Steva Dooley