The sun floats down softly on Magaña Farms, illuminating the rows of strawberries, chard, green onions, broccolini—and Bertha Magaña’s smiling, twinkling eyes.
“Esos ya cocidos saben dulces,” she says, pointing to the delicate, deep green broccolini. Bertha is, at once, a culinary expert, a scientist, a businesswoman, and a laborer all combined into one role: farmer.
Bertha owns and operates Magaña Farms, a nine-acre farm in the Salinas Valley, along with her husband, Heriberto, and a small team. She grows organic fruits and vegetables that end up anywhere from boutique grocery stores in Santa Cruz to direct-to-consumer boxes that get delivered to points across Northern California.
“So many small farmers grow from instinct—or have to react to immediate demands,” says David Mancera, a director for Kitchen Table Advisors. “We’re trying to help them think strategically. Long term.” The nonprofit aims to help sustainable farms become sustainable businesses.
It’s working with Bertha and Magaña Farms. She grows a diversity of crops, including three different types of strawberries with varying grow times, size, and sweetness. This way, she can time availability and make the most of the growing season, as well as meet the desires of her clients.
Bertha has paired her knowledge with the expert coaching she receives from her farm business advisor, Tania Zuñiga of Kitchen Table Advisors. In 2016, after three decades of working for other agriculture operations, Magaña Farms bought their land through a loan from California Farmlink. She was the first woman to borrow money from the nonprofit provider. Kitchen Table Advisors has supported dozens of farmers through its programs, more than 60% of them women. Bertha says that working with Kitchen Table Advisors has made all the difference.
“A Tania no me la quiten!” Bertha jokes about continuing to work with her advisor. Together, the women have done everything from refine conservation practices on the farm to knock on the doors of different grocers in an effort to diversify sales.
Bertha’s is a hard-earned success story. Originally, from the Mexican state of Jalisco, she grew up farming and her family did too. She is mother to four and has 10 grandchildren, and Magaña Farms remains a family affair: on Friday afternoons they show up, all hands on deck, to pack the boxes that will go out the next morning to customers.
Bertha’s journey shows that the dream of ownership can be made reality and that with that, comes self-determination, pride, and the potential for long-lasting wealth. However, many in the Salinas Valley and surrounding areas (known as the “salad bowl” of the U.S.) continue to face barriers. Large corporations dominate the agriculture industry here, even as Latinos make up more than 80% of farm laborers in California. Meanwhile, just 3% of farm owners are Latino.
Access to ownership and self-employment are ways Latinos can begin to reach economic justice.
Bertha knows she’s part of a small group. “I hope other women get these same opportunities,” she says in Spanish. She smiles under her trademark straw hat, offering out some of the first strawberries of the season. They are bright red, sweet, and perfect.
Follow Magaña Farms on Instagram: @maganaorganicfarms
Learn more about Kitchen Table Advisors: www.kitchentableadvisors.org
Written by Olivia Muñoz, Economic Justice Program Manager at the Latino Community Foundation