Viva Farms grows a new generation of farmers
Through Viva Farms, Sarita and Ethan Schaffer introduce newcomers to farming and teach sustainable techniques as an alternative to 'factory farms.'
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“It’s like the United Nations,” says Mr. Schaffer of the headphones students wear in class to accommodate the simultaneous translation. “We think it’s important to help build community between the English- and Spanish-speaking farmers. Latino farm workers are so vital to our farm system,” he says.Skip to next paragraph
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The mix of cultures is even more exciting once students graduate and lease plots on the farm, Mrs. Schaffer says. “Latinos are introducing how to use things we see as invasive weeds as something to be eaten.
"We’re all looking at food and farming through a different lens,” she says. “The incubator is about sharing tools, discoveries, and tips.”
Both Mr. and Mrs. Schaffer come from nonagricultural families in Idaho, but became interested in farming for social and environmental reasons. Mr. Schaffer was diagnosed with cancer when he was 16, and believes the way his food was grown played a role in his illness. After he went into remission, the couple traveled to New Zealand where they fully immersed themselves in working on farms.
“It was such hard work,” Mr. Schaffer says. “But at the same time it was really rewarding. Wheelbarrows full of manure and compost, working all day long and just feeling exhausted and satisfied by the end of the day.”
Without efforts such as Viva Farms, big agriculture will just get bigger, Mr. Schaffer says. Even “old-time” farmers who don’t practice organic methods still understand important principles like maintaining soil quality and being good stewards of the land. But the farm landscape has changed in recent years with big companies and hedge funds buying up farmland for real estate development and so-called factory farming.
“Food prices are going up, and the focus is on short-term yield by dumping pesticides,” Mr. Schaffer says.
Nelida Martinez and her daughter, Lisette Flores, lease a plot of land from Viva Farms. Before taking her first class in 2009, Mrs. Martinez was an avid gardener living in a farm-worker housing development. She was selling food from her community garden to help pay her son’s medical bills, while her daughter, Ms. Flores, was working at a fast-food restaurant.
Joining her mother at Viva Farms was the first time Ms. Flores had ever farmed. “My favorite part is seeding and transferring the seeds to soil,” Ms. Flores says. “I get to see it grow from a little tiny seed to full plants.” She also discovered vegetables she had never tried before, like broccoli.
If she and her mother hadn’t learned about Viva Farms, Flores says, she would probably still be working at a fast-food restaurant. “It’s really hard to start farming,” she says. “Viva Farms is giving us a real chance to start a difficult business without quitting in discouragement.”
“Pure Nelida,” the name of their farm on a Viva Farms plot, just broke even this year. Now the mother-daughter team has expanded and leased a bit more land. They are growing cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, radishes, and tomatoes.
“Our dream is to buy a farm,” Flores says. “But right now Viva gives us a place to sell our crops, which is key,” she says, referring to the roadside farmstand.
“We’re not just cultivating food, but the next generation of farmers,” Mrs. Schaffer says. One hundred percent of profits go back into education, training, and equipment, she says. “This program is definitely replicable. It could work every place people are eating.”
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