From farmworker to ambitious agriculture leader
FIELDS OF PRIDE – JAVIER ZAMORA, JSM ORGANIC FARMS
The rolling hills and mild climate of Royal Oaks, California allow Javier Zamora, owner/operator of JSM Organic Farms, to grow a variety of flowers and produce, including his prized organic strawberries.
“Everytime I go to a retail store where they sell my produce, I can’t shut up when I see someone picking up a box of my strawberries. I always go up to them and ask, ‘How do you like it?’ I pick the best berry out of the box for them to taste. I know where that strawberry came from. I know my fields well. We farm what Mother Nature allows us to farm based on the weather conditions and soil. So, this is Strawberryland.”
“From my childhood in Mexico, I already knew the physical part of farming, but I learned the science behind it. That made a really big difference. If we hadn’t gone through the financial difficulties, maybe I never would have gone back to my passion of farming.”
NOSTOS – THE JOURNEY BACK TO ROOTS
Born and raised in Mexico from a farming family, Zamora came to California at 20 years-old. His journey back into farming wasn’t deliberate, though. While working in the service industry in Los Angeles, Zamora lost his home during the housing crisis and faced financial hardship that made paying rent and purchasing groceries difficult. Zamora and his family moved to northern California, where he earned his GED and continued to study organic horticulture at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz County. He then connected with the Agriculture & Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), an organization that teaches aspiring farmers with limited resources how to grow and sell organic food to create greater economic opportunities while enhancing biological diversity through sustainable growing practices.
“When my father worked in Mexico, it was organically grown, though we didn’t even know what organic certification was. For me, organic farming is just going back to how my family farmed in my childhood. It’s the natural thing to do. I go home and can give a hug to my wife or my daughter and I don’t have to worry about changing my clothes because I sprayed something that could harm their health. It’s a beautiful thing.”
THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE IT POSSIBLE
At JSM Organics, which employs 27 people, Zamora has implemented a unique policy. “I’ve been on the other side, as a farmworker, and I felt that I was worth more than I was getting paid. I don’t want my employees to feel that way.” So, Zamora pays his employees between $12.50-$18 an hour depending on experience, which he says is critical for the success of the operation. “Paying your employees the most money you can will make you successful because their goal will be to make your operation succeed.” Zamora also believes that transparency with his customers is important. “My workers want to better their lives, to have a good salary, a good hourly wage job so that they can pay rent, buy good food, and perhaps send some money to relatives in Mexico. I do my very best so that my customers understand what my workers do and how much they get paid, so the customer will understand why my strawberries are a little bit more expensive than a big broker.”
PAYING IT FORWARD
In addition to recently purchasing his own ranch, managing 27 employees, and running his farm, Zamora finds time to participate on the boards of ALBA, the Ecological Farming Association, and the USDA Farmer and Rancher Committee. “As an individual, you must give back to the community, you must try to make things easier for others. So, being a part of a few boards and contributing nothing but my own experiences is what I can do to help.”
PROTECTING WHAT MATTERS AND ADVOCATING FOR CHANGE
Zamora is a strong advocate for Latino rights, specifically for migrant farmworkers that come from Mexico. “I think I actually live the American Dream: my journey of coming from Mexico, learning about America, suffering during the housing crisis, and then coming back and really finding myself and my passion to make my business succeed. I think that’s the American Dream, making a difference, not only for yourself and your family but for the community. This land and this country offers so many opportunities for people like me. My passion is to farm, to grow food. My passion is soil, water, natural things that feed the world.”
“As citizens, I think we need to face reality. We need to think about who is really growing your food. Let’s try to make sure that we protect our resources, our soil, water, farm workers—the people who are growing your food. The people who are feeding your child. Learn about food. Learn about farming. Go and grow something. It will change your life.”