Practical Farm Skills and Unity Emphasized at Spanish-Language Farm Field Day
The Futuro en Ag project of the Cornell Small Farms Program offers agricultural education and training for a Spanish-first audience.
Under a shady tree at West Haven Farm in Ithaca, NY, more than 30 people gathered to learn organic farming and farm management practices at a Spanish-language field day on Saturday, July 29. The event attracted farm owners, farm employees, supervisors and aspiring farmers and was organized by the Futuro en Ag project of the Cornell Small Farms Program (SFP).
Carlos Aguilera, co-owner of West Haven Farm with his wife Lorena Mendoza, explained his motivation for hosting the daylong event.
“There’s a great need to build community among Latinos who work in agriculture here,” Aguilera said. “There’s a separation that we carry with us from the times of colonization. Sometimes we think we’re different, say if I’m from Mexico and the person next to me is from Honduras. But once we get to know each other, everything changes. I begin to want to share what I know, and I ask you about your expertise, and we support each other.”
Since 2019, under the care of Aguilera and Mendoza, West Haven Farm has provided organic produce to Community Supported Agriculture members, and the farmers and their team of five employees sell vegetables and starts wholesale and at farmers markets.
Mendoza grew up on a small subsistence farm in Mexico and wanted her own children to have a similar experience of living off the land. She said: “I see this kind of event as a gift. Seeing this group here together fills me with pride and satisfaction. Seeing how despite how our communities can become fragmented when we come to the United States, we can come together here, share knowledge and build strong connections.”
The training began with participants introducing themselves to the others around the circle and sharing what they hoped to come away with. Hormis Bedolla, a 20-year veteran of the New York apple industry and currently a supervisor at Teeple Farms in Wolcott, NY, made the two-hour journey with a carload of her colleagues.
“I’m here because I think I deserve to dream,” said Bedolla. “Sometimes you think, ‘who am I to have goals? I’m an immigrant, I’m a woman.’ But no, with effort anyone can have something of their own and live with dignity. I thank the program for the opportunity. Everything we’re going to talk about, I want to learn: finances, pest management, how to access grants, things like that.”
After introductions, Aguilera began the field day by taking participants out to the farm to show them his strategies for integrated pest management. Among the long rows of yellow onions and ripening tomatoes, the group learned practices such as soil management, crop spacing and proper irrigation, as well as pest identification and organic pest management.
Next, Aguilera took the group a series of high tunnels they use for germinating plants, extending the growing season and post-harvest processing. He explained how he calculated the benefit of investing in high tunnels and some avenues for accessing government grants to subsidize the investment.
After an exquisite homemade Mexican lunch prepared by West Haven Farm employees, participants learned leadership and communication skills from Bedolla.
“Good communication is just as important to a farm business as being able to identify pests on our crops,” she said. “We have to be clear communicators and have empathy, that is, learn how to put ourselves in another person’s shoes.”
Bedolla particularly spoke to the nearly 20 women in the room, encouraging them to recognize their worth and potential. “As women in our culture and our families, we often have a secondary role, but we have so much potential. We women can do whatever we set out to do.”
Mildred Alvarado, Futuro en Ag’s project leader who grew up on a subsistence coffee farm in Honduras, wrapped up the day’s instruction with an introduction to household and business budgeting. “If we want to be able to run a business, we first have to manage our family finances well,” she said.
One of the participants was Vicente Morales, who works in a Finger Lakes winery. He shared that his grandfather used to take him and his brothers to work on the family farm in Michoacán, Mexico where the family grew corn and beans.
“Coming here is completely different, working in grapes,” said Morales. “Before today I had never had an opportunity like this. I’d love it if we could have more chances to get together and learn from each other. There are lots of us [Latinos] in this area now, and we should support each other.”
Oscar Contreras, from Tamaulipas, Mexico, agreed, and appreciated the instruction and camaraderie in Spanish: “Sometimes you think you’re alone. Sometimes you have a hard time communicating with people from here but if you find someone who speaks your same language, you feel more accompanied, more valued.”
Alvarado reiterated some sentiments she had heard throughout the day.
“Historically, we have been fragmented, not only from people from the United States but even among ourselves as Latinas and Latinos,” she said. “At work, many times we’re told, ‘do this, do that,’ but they don’t tell us why. These field days are to explain why we do what we do on the farm. In the big picture, we are trying to empower people from marginalized communities to unite and see ourselves as leaders in agriculture in New York, no matter if we’re managers or employees or farm owners.”
Alvarado highlighted the importance of facilitating farmer-to-farmer education in a shared language. “Who better to teach these courses than Latino farmers themselves, who have overcome the barriers that we all face in agriculture?” She concluded by thanking the hosts from West Haven Farm and all of the participants who gave of their time and shared their enthusiasm for learning.
The Futuro en Ag project of the Cornell Small Farms Program offers in-person and online agricultural education and training for a Spanish-first audience. In the fall and winter, Futuro en Ag will offer three online courses in Spanish for new and aspiring farmers and will host a two-day Latino/a Farmers Conference in Latham, NY in December.