J & P Organics Farm, California
Farmers Behind Your Food: J & P Organics Farm, California
How a Close-Knit Family Built an Organic Farm in Salinas, Calif.
Like many college freshmen, Juan Perez wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. As a first-generation American, he had a world of options that his father Pablo didn’t have when he was growing up in Mexico.
“I tried liberal studies to become a teacher but realized it wasn’t for me,” Perez says. “Then I tried computer science, but computers just drove me crazy.”
He had worked on his father’s farm when he was younger but never considered farming his destiny. In fact, he even turned down a job offer from his father in order to stay in school.
Eventually though, his decision to stick with school led him back to farming.
One summer during college, Perez signed up for an internship at a local farm. The internship - sponsored by the Agriculture Land Based Training Association - was just what Perez had been looking for.
“That’s when everything clicked”, Perez says, now 31. “I started learning about organic and conservation; soil, water, land!”
Perez had grown up on a conventional farm that was regularly sprayed with chemicals and pesticides. As he learned more about organics and soil health – and the negatives of conventional farming – he wanted to make a farm that was different.
“I was reading research about how harmful pesticides and chemicals affect everybody,” Perez says. “If I was going to do this, why not do it the right way? Why not help the environment – conserve water and the land?”
One thing that Perez decided wouldn’t be different was the work ethic behind his farm.
“In the summer and on weekends, we used to help my father with the weeding, packing, and delivery - the whole cycle,” Perez says. “He taught me how to work the land and how to work for your money.”
So in 2005, with a deep understanding of healthy land and food and a work ethic to match, Perez opened J & P Organics Farm in Salinas, Calif.
At first, the farm was only one acre. Over a decade, it has expanded to 14 acres that grow a bounty of fresh produce grown organically, which means without toxic pesticides or genetically engineered seeds. Compared to an average California farm of 328 acres, J & P Organics is small, but its impact on the land and community is unmistakable. Perez is proud that by growing organic produce, he is improving water quality, keeping carbon locked up in soil and reducing his community’s exposure to dangerous pesticides
Organic farmers like Perez can only thrive if Congress continues to invest in them. Allowing them greater access to conservation programs – so farmers like Perez can protect their land and the environment in unique ways - would be a great first step. In the most recent farm bill, Congress finally gave organic farmers the same access to crop insurance as conventional farmers. This means that Perez will soon be able to protect his organic crops at a fair market price.
Everything grown on the Perez farm is sold directly to nearby communities. Local residents can buy food and flowers from Perez knowing that it hasn’t been stored and shipped across the country or across the world and that in the process they’re supporting a farmer in their area.
I asked Perez what was the first thing that came to his mind when I said, “J&P Organics Farm.”
“Family,” he said. “It’s a circle. With my degree and my family, being owners of our own farm and working together, I can bring my son into the field without worrying about chemicals or pesticides. It’s a team farm, a family farm. We love what we do.”