|Pride of Ownership
Alfredo Chavez is a student farmer essentially in for the fight of his
life. "I have a little daughter named Valerie, and
I'm here is because I want a better future for her. My plans are to work
hard here, get more land, and become successful," said Alfredo.
Alfredo moved to the United States as a child and, once grown, he followed
in his parents' footsteps, toiling in the fields as a farm worker. But
today he's a student at ALBA, the Agriculture and Land Based Training
Association in Salinas, a place where mostly immigrant farm workers strive
to be farm owners. But, as any small business owner can attest, start-up
isn't easy. Add language and financial barriers, and you appreciate the
monumental fight these students face.
So, to level the field, ALBA instructors like Rebecca Thistlethwaite
teach farming with a unique approach. Says Rebecca, "First of all
our program is free, other than a small price for rent, for the land.
Most of our program is in Spanish, so we really
cater to Spanish
speaking farmers. And we focus on small-scale farming techniques that
are appropriate to farmers that don't have a lot of money."
Specifically, techniques like farming organically, a niche where today's
small farmer can truly be competitive. And with an onsite produce company,
ALBA even acts as the student's first customer. ALBA's development director,
Gary Peterson says the program gives money to students, while filling
the community's produce needs. "We consolidate their produce and
deliver it to various outlets throughout the region. We also put together
community supported agriculture boxes and encourage consumers throughout
the central coast to take deliveries of our produce each week."
But at ALBA the long-term goal is self-sufficiency, learning to keep income
high and costs low. Brett Malone is the Executive Director of ALBA, and
says organic farming makes fiscal sense for the future farmers. "The
regulations that any type of business has to face nowadays, in terms of
environmental protection and protection of their workers, and
of their customers is so onerous, that it just makes good business sense
for people to be doing things in a way that is going to protect them from
potential problems down the road."
But organic farming is just one element. For example, take the soil,
the farmer's life-blood. If it washes away, more than just a career could
be lost. Says Rebecca, "Well in this particular watershed we have
one of the highest rates of erosion west of the Mississippi River. And
if we continue to farm the way that is the status quo here, all of our
topsoil will be gone, pretty much making agriculture non-viable in this
area and I believe that just opens up the door for development and non-agricultural
uses to come in here."
So ALBA encourages farmers to adopt sustainable practices. And at their
Triple M Ranch in Watsonville, they extend an invitation to local farmers,
looking to learn the latest sustainable techniques. Says Rebecca; "We're
planting grass on the roads to prevent rain erosion. Cause the roads are
one of the main sources of erosion in this watershed. And we teach farmers
that planting native plants, such as this buckwheat, will help reduce
their dependency on pesticides. Because these plants attract beautiful
insects that then go out and control the pests in their fields."
For established farmers like Rudy Vasquez, the ALBA ranch provides a
low-cost opportunity to learn about sustainable farming before it's too
late. "It's good to learn, because on my other ranch I must have
lost already three feet of top soil. I think I would have to sell my farm
and that would be it for me," said Rudy.
But today this long-time farmer has taken the steps to save his land.
And for the first time, he's even going organic. Farmers like Rudy Vasquez
are setting an example for students. Proving today's small farmers can
manage successful businesses, while also being good stewards of the land.
But there's one last ingredient every successful farmer needs, and Alfredo's
teachers say he's got it
awe-inspiring determination. Says Brett,
"He's really been an inspiration and a testament to what is possible."
Says Alfredo, "Well my plans are probably to get two acres. My wife
is going to come help me. And maybe, me and her we can do it, because
I love it, I love agriculture."