JSM Organics, California
Javier has spent the past eight years creating his farm, JSM Organics, California with a mission to provide his community with high quality organic food that is both affordable and accessible.
Know Your Farmer | JSM Organics, California
Javier Zamora: I enjoy what I do. And I’m blessed. I'm a blessed individual because I’m still able to farm. I'm doing what I enjoy doing, which is producing lots of food for the community. And I'm really proud that I have employees that actually make really good money and can do things that they perhaps wouldn't be able to achieve if they were working for somebody else.
My name is Javier Zamora. I'm a certified organic farmer, and the name of my business is JSM Organics. We’re in beautiful Royal Oaks, California, which is a small little town between Watsonville and Salinas. I grow mainly strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, lots of vegetables like celery and cabbages, and lots of organic flowers.
Well, I come from a farming family in Mexico. I didn't come to the States until the age of 20. I lived in Southern California (L.A.) but I didn’t do any farming there. It wasn't until 2011 that I moved up here to Watsonville, and I started educating myself more about farming, and I started my own farm in 2012. I started with a little acre and a half – it was just me at the time. And now, seven years later, we grow over 100 acres and employ about 27 full-time and about 30-something during the season. We feed a lot of people out of this land. It's here for us to make the best out of it.
Becoming Stewards of the Soil at JSM Organics California
We have to understand that the way we treat the soil will impact the future generations of farming and food production. I don't just use and mine the soil. I feed the soil. All the time. Cover cropping, composting, rotating – you must do these things. Just like the way we nourish our body and our system; we have to do the same thing with the soil. We're just using the soil. We are really blessed that we have it, so we have to leave it for somebody else in better condition than when we took it on.
The Importance of the Farm Experience
The biggest thing for me is to connect the end consumer, the eater, with the farm. I'm a big advocate of having college students, universities, and people from the community come and visit the farm so they can taste a strawberry off the plant or they can chew on a green bean off the plant and experience how it’s incredibly different than when they buy a clamshell of strawberries at the supermarket. At the supermarket, they don't know how long the food has been picked for. Having the farm experience and visiting the farm changes people's mentality about where their food comes from. And they get informed and educated about the real cost of food.
Creating Better Opportunities
At most big farms, the labor force is mostly mexicanos, they're from Mexico. The hourly wage is anywhere from $11.50 to $12.25. My employees make from $14 to $21 an hour. And I know their names. I get involved in a little bit of their lives so that I know what issues they might be facing or how I can help them. They're not just a number for me, and they're not just a group of people that are coming in for four months to do all kinds of work for me – pick all my strawberries or all my celery and then go away. And then I won't know anything else about them. No. They're people.
When I was a farm worker myself, I wasn't… I wasn't treated as I wish I would have been. I don't want my workers to feel the same way. So, I want to make sure that they feel really good about doing what we do. And make sure that they can pay for the bills so that they can, if they wish, build a home in Mexico, or send their kids to school here in California, or have an apartment by themselves with their families instead of having to live in a trailer with six or seven other people.
Diversification: Not Only Better for the Soil, Better for Employees Too
One of the things that I do as a diversified farm is that I grow different types of vegetables and fruits at different times with different varieties, with hoop houses, with perhaps even a little green house in order to extend my season and keep my employees working longer. I don't have to just employ them seven months per year – I can actually employ them eleven months out of the year. And my temporary employees can work seven months instead of five months. Having a diversified farm allows you to do that.
So, the farm needs to be diverse, but your employees have to be very diverse as well. Not just Juan, Miguel, and Maria. It has to be the Hannah, the François, James, and Josh. And anybody that wants to farm and wants to be a part of your operation must be included. And must be giving an opportunity to give it a chance. When you deal with bigger farms, they get contractors and they have these massive amounts of land that they just do lettuce and their profits are within pennies, because they have investors and they have all these people that want returns, so they’re not able to do certain things that I'm doing. But that's not sustainable.
Small Farms Growing for the Community
We just need many more small, family-owned farms that are closer to where people are eating. Our zucchinis, they can come from California in October and November – we don't have to depend on the Mexican zucchinis or the Chilean blueberries or things like that. There are a lot of things that we can do locally. And when you have a large number of small farmers near the people that eat, things get a lot better. Right? Instead of having big farms far, far, far away –only God knows what's in those fruits. You don't know. Here at my farm, we know. And that's why you guys come and see me. That's why everybody comes to see the farm because they want to know. They want to know, “How is Javier growing these beautiful and tasty strawberries?” So, thanks for coming out here and letting people know what we do.
Supporting Your Farmer
We all want to do good things, but we can't do it by ourselves. We need a team of people to get on board. One of the biggest things that you can do is actually know your farmer. Where is the farmer farming? Come and visit the land where he's growing those tasty strawberries or bell peppers or watermelons – whatever it might be. Talk to him. Find out what issues he's facing. Find out the success that he's having. What can you do as a buyer or as a consumer to support his goal of being a successful farmer? Because sometimes it takes years to do that. And it takes many people in the community for that farmer to succeed himself or herself. It's very difficult. It's very difficult to really be a farmer that can have an impact in the community. There is a team effort of members of the community, employees, and many other things that are part of being successful.