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Three generations work family almond orchard
Three generations of Phillips farmers gather in the pool room of family patriarch and matriarch Richard and Ernestine Phillips. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

The family that prays together stays together, so the old saying goes.

For Richard and Ernestine Phillips, the old adage also means the family that farms together stays closer together.

They are the quintessential example of a vanishing Americana: the family-owned farm. Everyone is involved in the entire operation – from family patriarch Richard who started it all as far as their almond crop is concerned which is their main product, to matriarch Ernestine who is better known by her androgynous moniker Ernie, their only daughter and oldest child Diane, and sons Richard and Michael. Now, the family’s P&P Farms has expanded to include a member of the five grandchildren.

Everyone has an equal opportunity to get dirty in the orchards, especially during harvest time in the fall when every pair of hands is mobilized in every step of the dusty operation – from the shaking of the almonds off the trees, to sweeping the nuts in windrows on the ground and later scooping them up with the heavy machines and into the trucks that deliver the nuts to the P&P Farms’ hullers on South Union Road. The hulling machines also allow the Phillips farming family to provide hulling services to other growers and farmers.

Like many family-owned farms ranging from small- to medium-sized operations, the Phillips children augment their farming incomes by holding other jobs. For Diane, the oldest, the job was being a mail carrier for the Manteca Post Office for many years. She was, in fact, the first female mail carrier in Manteca. Later on, she started her own business, a hot dog stand at the Lincoln Center in Stockton made famous by comedian Bill Cosby who ate there when he did a show at the Fox Theatre.

Middle child Michael works for Sandia Laboratory in Livermore. Like his sister, he takes time off in the fall to help with in the almond harvest.

Richard, who is the baby in the family, is the one who “has taken in the farm,” literally following his father’s footsteps. Like his father who drove trucks for Franzia Winery for more than two decades, young Richard worked as a truck driver for a while before he eventually embraced farming as a career. Richard Sr. said his son “drove for a lot of farmers here” including now retired John Azevedo. The younger Richard also held a job at the Hayre’s Eggs in Lathrop. And when he is not getting his hands dirty at the family’s almond orchards, he is out serving as a fire reservist with the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District.