The Mexican star at the US farmers’ market

22 December 2015

Nelida Martinez, from Oaxaca, Mexico, came to pick berries in the USA. Now, against all odds, she is the owner and operator of her own organic farm. Through a farm business incubator, Nelida was able to rent land, and now produces organic food that she sells at farmers’ markets in the Skagit Valley area.

“We Latino farm workers are the majority here. But it’s a lot of humiliation for us. Many of us never think about having our own farm because we feel degraded by the work as farm labourers and we don’t have money to rent our own land. But when my son got sick with leukemia, I really started thinking about the chemicals I worked with and how I wanted to have a healthier life for my family. I wanted to grow my own food organically and know where it was coming from. I wanted to work in a healthy environment.

So I started planting tomatoes, jalapeños, cucumbers and a little bit of everything on a small plot of borrowed land. I was growing for my family but also selling a little at the markets. I began making some money, so I leased an acre of land to grow more. Then I learned about Viva Farms, a farm business incubator that leases organic land at half the market rate, and provides infrastructure and services. So I started growing there. Now I sell produce and berries at the Viva farm stand and at farmers’ markets on Saturdays where I also sell ready-made foods.

Among my friends I am known as La Estrella (the star). They say I am very good at farmers’ markets. I also make fresh tortillas, as they are part of the food culture I bring from Oaxaca, and sell them at the market. But, no soy tortillera, I’m not a tortilla maker, I’m a farmer!”

Interview by Natasha Bowens, based on a chapter in her book ‘The Color of Food’.