September 23, 2011

Catalán Farm Grows Food, Family, and Community

sites/default/files/catalan_maria.jpgCUESA visited Catalán Family Farm in Hollister last month. We took notes and photos and compiled them into this slideshow.

 “We like it when people come to the farm,” said Juan Catalán, pictured above with his mother, María Inés Catalán. “It lets us know people appreciate what we do.” (You can appreciate them by visiting their booth at the Thursday or Saturday market, or by taking a virtual tour of the farm.)

At the end of our tour, over a beautiful picnic the Catalán family prepared, María Catalán spoke to our group (in Spanish, with translation by Juan) about her family history, the origins of her farm, and what she is doing in the local community.

María’s father and grandfather came to Texas in the 1970s. Her grandfather was a farmer and cattle rancher from Guerrero, Mexico. Her mother migrated 30 years ago to Los Angeles; María and her brothers came after that, 24 years ago.

María worked for seven years as a field laborer, harvesting vegetables for different companies: broccoli, lettuce, chile peppers, cauliflower, parsley, etc. She then went through an agricultural training in Salinas where she learned to drive a tractor and grow vegetables organically. She found organic farming to be similar to traditional growing methods her family used in Mexico.

After the training, she was able to fulfill her dream of starting her own farm. “All I wanted was for my grandchildren to be free to run and to grow up with lots of food like I did,” she said.

Making the leap from field worker to farm owner isn’t easy. According to María, “Here, the reality of an immigrant farm worker is that they’re not free. Whole families of six or eight people live in one small room. They have a hard life, and they live there generation after generation.”

She considers herself fortunate, and it is through sustained effort that María created the life she has today. “As an immigrant woman without money and not speaking the language, it’s been very difficult to get to this place and have what I have. I am where I am because people know our work. And we all work. My kids are my voice, and they say what I can’t say. Some work at the farmers market; others work here.”

María is now helping other small farmers by providing information and technical assistance. “Lots of small farmers here aren’t recognized,” she said. “They grow organically, but are not certified because they don’t know how to do the paperwork. They are selling these organic vegetables at a low price, like prices for conventional produce.” María is helping them get certified and get into farmers markets. Last year she formed a group called Pequeñas Agricultores de California (Small Farmers of California).

María said they are applying to become a nonprofit. She feels it’s important for communities to have the means to produce their own food and to receive the recognition they deserve.

“It pains me when they view us immigrants as being low,” she said. “We are the people who work the hardest for the least money. It’s because of us that food is cheap. When you buy cheap food, you are helping big companies exploit workers.”

María described how times are particularly hard right now. “Some of our members have lost land because the land owners have lost land.” The Catalán family is having a similar struggle. They have been working to realize their dream of land ownership by purchasing their farm from the land owners, but in the economic downturn, the owners have lost their investment. Though the Cataláns have paid a large sum so far, there is still even more owed to the bank, and the payments have gone up.

Despite her own farm’s economic challenges, María Catalán is eager to help others. “We’re small farmers, but they’re even smaller. They need more help. The USDA has an assistance program, but the majority of these farmers are not here legally. The USDA funds only go to legal citizens.”

“With our organization, we are looking to involve the community so we can work together to come out of this bad economic situation and look for solutions. It’s the only way we can keep surviving as small agricultural producers.”

View the slideshow of Catalán Family Farm.

 

About CUESA

CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to cultivating a sustainable food system through the operation of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and its educational programs. Learn More »