"Farmer Joe" Bernard, whose fresh produce stand was a neighborhood staple for 30 years, has died. He was 97 years old.


"Dad just had the knack to it," Bernard's daughter, Jo Ann Burlinson, said of her father's farming skills. "And talking to his plants he used to go out early and talk to them."


But when the former "Corn King" of Chino Valley retired in 1982, he was miserable.


"He was the last farmer" in the area, Burlinson recalled. "The (housing developments) were surrounding the ranch."


When he finally agreed to sell, after 40 years of farming in Chino, he and his wife Rose made a pretty penny on their 20-acre property. He bought a Cadillac, a boat and the first of several recreational vehicles and he and Rose toured the country.


But still the land called to him.


"Dad could never get it out of his mind," Burlinson said. "Any space that there was a bare spot, he wanted it."


He and Rose moved to Hesperia to be near his children. Soon, he was tearing out the flower beds and plastic covering from the back yard so that he could have a place to farm, despite the skepticism of neighbors who believed the Victor Valley would never support the wide variety of fruit and vegetables "Farmer Joe" thought he could get to grow.


"What Joe Bernard said he could do, he could do," Burlinson said.


Bernard sold vegetables out of his garage on the mesa for two years before San Bernardino County informed him he couldn't sell produce that way. The next season, he opened up "Bernard Ranch," a fruit and vegetable stand on the corner of I and Preston avenues on the Mesa, and sold produce grown on his eight lots in town for the next 30 years.


"When the first strawberries are here, I didn't even make it home" with them, said longtime customer and friend Margaret Caulfield. "Some people were even driving up from (Los Angeles) to get the corn."


"These two older women, they drove up from Big Bear every week to get the corn," Burlinson said.


Burlinson says her own health issues will prevent her from running Bernard Ranch now that her father is gone.


Bernard died on Feb. 11 of acute leukemia. He is survived by two children, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.


A funeral will be held for held for "Farmer Joe" Bernard at 10:30 a.m. Friday in St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church at 14085 Payton Drive, Chino Hills. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to City of Hope in Duarte.


Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.