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Farm Laborers Get a Foothold with Their Own Organic Farms

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's All About Organics page, Organic Transitions page and our Fair Trade & Social Transitions page.

Northern California's Salinas Valley is often dubbed America's salad bowl. Large growers there have long relied on thousands of seasonal workers from rural Mexico to pick lettuce, spinach and celery from sunrise to sunset. Many of these workers seem destined for a life in the fields. But a program that helps field workers, like Raul Murillo, start their own farms and businesses is starting to yield a few success stories.

Murillo leases a 3-acre strawberry farm from a cooperative called ALBA Organics. It trains longtime workers in organic farm management and helps with things like fertilizer and irrigation tools.

Murillo can sell his berries back to ALBA's cooperative, which does a brisk business with grocery stores in the nearby Bay Area.

If God permits, he says, he'll continue turning a modest profit so he can hire more people who need the work. Under ALBA's rules, Murillo can lease this land at a subsidized rate only for a few years; after that he's on his own. But it's a risk he's willing to take even though he'd leave behind the steady paycheck he gets still working for big growers.

It's about being your own boss, instead of working for a foreman, he says. And at 45, he wants to try going out on his own before he gets too old.

Murillo's story is not unlike many of the 50 or so other farmers-in-training here at ALBA. Many have spent their entire lives in the fields, moving from one harvest to the next, from California down to Mexico, then back.  


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