Didar Singh Bains, known as the peach king of California, has passed away at the age of 83.
Bains was born in 1939 in the Nangal Khurd village in Punjab's Hoshiarpur district. The story goes that he came to the United States as a teenager with eight dollars in his pocket, worked as a manual labourer, and went on to become the biggest peach farmer in California.
The president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Harjinder Singh Dhami, has expressed sorrow at his demise and called him a "famous Sikh leader of America" who will be remembered for his "services towards Sikhi."
The Bains Family and Entry Into Peach Farming
The first person from the Bains family to come to the US was Didar Singh Bains' grand uncle Kartar 'Ram' Bains. He arrived in the US via Mexico during the 1920s after he was initially denied entry to America when his ship docked at San Francisco. He first worked in the fruit orchards in the Imperial Valley before reaching the Placer County and the Yuba City area, where he eventually bought land to establish his own orchards.
He helped his nephew Gurpal Singh Bains, Didar Bains' father, come to California's Yuba County from Punjab in 1948. Didar Singh Bains then came to the US in 1958 when he was just about 18, and his mother Amar Kaur came in 1962.
Didar Bains' first job was as a farm labourer working for local farmers in Yuba County. Due to his hard work, he soon became a foreman at the farm.
Within four years, in 1962, he had saved enough to buy his own piece of land. That was just the beginning.
In the years that followed, Bains was able to buy more land across the state and by 1978, he became the biggest peach farmer of California.
His success as a fruit-grower was such that many said he could "quite literally make money grow on trees."
At that point, Bains decided to diversify both in terms of produce as well as geographically. He purchased land for fruit cultivation in Canada's British Columbia and the Washington State in the US and also began growing cranberries at a significant scale.
He further diversified into growing raspberries, blueberries, black currants, prunes, walnuts, almonds, and grapes.
In 1964, Didar Singh Bains married Santi Poonian, who was also from a family of pioneering farmers in North America. Her grandfather is said to have introduced crop rotation practices in Arizona.
Community Leader Who Helped Many Sikhs After 1984
Didar Singh Bains was an important community leader for the Sikhs in North America. Between 1965-68, he was the president of the Stockton Gurdwara, the first Gurdwara in the United States, set up in 1912. He has donated extensively to Sikh holy sites in India as well.
When Sikhs fled India after the 1984 pogrom, Bains is reported to have helped many of them find jobs in his orchards. He even provided attorneys to many of the Sikhs seeking asylum.
He played an instrumental role in the formation of the World Sikh Organisation in 1984 and went on to become its president as well. He led a huge congregation of Sikhs, to the Madison Square in New York, to form the WSO.
In 1980, he started the Yuba Nagar Kirtan, called the Yuba Sikh Parade, which has now become a regular event.
When Sikhs faced hate crimes after the 11 September 2001 attacks, it was Bains who led a delegation of Sikhs to meet the then US President George W Bush.