Special to The Union
Farmer Javier Zamora of JSM Organics has stayed true to his vision, growing healthy food in a way that is good for people and the planet since 2012 when he first started his certified organic farm in the Salinas Valley on California’s Central Coast.
“Javier is super generous. He takes really good care of his people, his land and his customers. There is a lot of love when it comes to JSM,” said BriarPatch Food Co-op Produce Manager David Benson, who first met and hit it off with Zamora in the early days of his operation when the two were part of a Q&A panel during the annual EcoFarm Conference in Asilomar.
It’s a farm to retail relationship that stuck and continues to blossom, year after year.
JSM Organics provides organic produce nine months of the year to BriarPatch, a mix of 20 different items including berries, flowers, celery, green beans and corn to a loyal fan base of foodies in Nevada County. Now in its tenth year and going strong, JSM Organics has sold a total of $1.4 million in organic produce to date to The Co-op.
“That region has a special kind of consumer that cares what they eat and the environment. The region has helped me be a better farmer,” said Zamora of his connection to Nevada County.
This spring, Zamora will be a Keynote Speaker at Sierra Harvest’s two-day event, the Sustainable Food & Farm Conference, held March 3 and 4 at Fulcrum Farm and Sierra College in Grass Valley. Zamora will share what he has learned about farming during a presentation, “The Essentials of Building a Successful Farm Business.”
“I’ll give my story and hopefully people will be inspired,” he said. In addition, Zamora will supply strawberries for Sierra Harvest’s Harvest of the Month program at local schools in May.
Today with Zamora’s warm heart, he continues to give back. He has become a leader and a respected voice in the organic farming movement as both an advocate and mentor. College and university students regularly visit his farm to learn the keys to a successful organic farming career and he belongs to several boards and non-profit groups including Eco Farm and sits on the USDA Advisory Committee for Small and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers.
“In the next two years, my main focus is building other growers. We need more farmers. We need to build more farmers near communities,” said Zamora.
“Maybe I can do something better”
Zamora knows what it takes to grow a successful ecological farm business from the ground up, despite great odds. Of all farm businesses counted by the USDA, Hispanic owners represent less than four percent. Zamora is working to increase the number of Hispanic-owned farms in his community.
As an advocate for worker rights, he is leading by doing. He shows appreciation and respect for the people who make up his crew of 25 full-time workers and has a hope for them to better their lives.
“You have to take care of them and treat them really-well, pay them well and treat them like humans. I’m almost nothing without them,” he said.
The son of farming parents, Javier immigrated from Mexico to California decades ago. He started in the food industry in Los Angeles, worked up the ladder and did well for himself and his family, until the housing market took a dive. He lost everything including his house and had to start over. He decided to go back to school at 43 to get his GED and a certificate in landscaping.
“Once I did that, I started understanding that maybe I can do something better.”
He returned to his roots and started growing things again. It took years of tough challenges and hard work, but he made his way to become one of California’s most celebrated organic farmers.
He tapped into resources, wasn’t afraid to learn new things and seek help. He worked with ALBA (Agriculture and Land Based Training Association) a group that helps low-income field laborers get the skills they need to advance their careers or pursue their dreams of farm ownership. Each year, ALBA helps farmworkers transition to farm managers and owners.
“I knew I was getting involved with something really good,” he remembers.
He started with 1.5 acres and a $5,000 loan. Today, Javier and his crew grow organic fruit, vegetables and flowers on 200 acres in Monterey County, thanks in part to a partnership with the Elkhorn Slough Foundation, a nonprofit who helped him purchase the property in 2016.
Of that, 80 acres is prime farmland while the remaining 120 acres are protected by a conservation easement for local wildlife and a healthier coastal ecosystem. Javier’s ranch is along a key corridor to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Reserve.
Tucked in a valley framed by rolling hills, the farm is a 20-minute drive from Santa Cruz, Carmel and Monterey and about three and a half miles from the coast. Cool summers with average temperatures of 64 degrees are perfect for growing strawberries, raspberries, flowers and artichokes. Javier and his crew work with nature to grow the best strawberries around, with no chemicals.
“This is strawberry land. This is the land where Mother Nature allows us to grow these beautiful fruits. There are very few parts of the world where you have these conditions,” he said
He counts his strong work ethic and discipline as keys to his success along with the support he has received from the community.
“I’ve gotten where I am because I have a lot of people around me that are willing to help. We are here for a very short period of time. My goal is to make sure that the impact I create is a good one for future generations,” said Zamora.
To learn more about the Sustainable Food & Farm Conference, visit https://www.foodandfarmconference.com/