Money & Business

California Association Turns Farm Workers Into Farm Owners

By / Aug 5, 2013 (Comstock/Thinkstock)

An organic farming association in Northern California trains immigrant field workers how to manage their own farms.

Migrant farm laborers are hard workers often driven to seek better opportunities, but many of them lack the knowledge and resources needed to grow beyond a lifetime working the fields. One association is hoping to change that.

In Salinas, California, the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) teaches minority, low-income farm workers about the business aspects of farming and helps them start their own farms. There are about 50 aspiring farmers in the ALBA program, which trains them in organic farm production, marketing, recordkeeping, labor law, pest management, and numerous other aspects of operating a small farm business.

ALBA owns a 110-acre organic farm, and to help the laborers get started with their own farm businesses, it leases them farmland at subsidized prices. It also provides supplies like fertilizer and irrigation tools. The beginner farmers work the land as independents and sell their produce to a cooperative the association created called ALBA Organics; it distributes the food to grocery stores such as Whole Foods in the nearby San Francisco Bay area. After a few years, ALBA helps the farmers transfer their operations to other locations.

Many of the farmers-in-training are immigrants from Mexico who have picked harvests up and down California. An article at NPR profiles 45-year-old Raul Murillo, who leases a three-acre strawberry farm from ALBA. He’s turning a modest profit and intends to strike out on his own once his time with ALBA is up.

Historically, field workers like Murillo have faced difficulty transitioning and prospering because of language and cultural barriers, the high cost of land, lack of resources, and institutional exclusion, ALBA says. It aims to empower these workers by helping them overcome such barriers while boosting California’s small-farm agricultural segment.

The program has shown some success. Since 2002, 90 ALBA graduates have begun their own independent farms off-site and are doing well. The association sources 80 percent of its produce from its graduates and last year generated about $5 million in revenue.

Some ALBA alumni are even hiring their own workers, a circular effect that helps the keep the small-farm industry growing.

Chris Brandon

Christopher Brandon is a contributor to Associations Now. More »

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