Who We Serve

Though we welcome limited-resource farmers from all backgrounds, the vast majority who knock on our ALBA’s door are Mexican immigrants seeking a chance at a better life. The productivity of large scale growers in the Salinas Valley makes it the ‘Salad Bowl to the World’, generating $4 billion in crop sales for the predominantly large-scale growers. The sector employs over 50,000 workers, but many of these jobs are held by Mexican immigrant farmworkers, who are paid between $20 and $30 thousand per year without job security or benefits. They are often disregarded as ‘unskilled labor’, but their talent and work ethic make them capable of much more if given the opportunity.

ALBA invests in their development through bi-lingual education and subsidized access to resources to pursue the dream of farm ownership. The 5-year program gives participants the needed time and guidance for their start-up farms to take root and grow. Others stay with us for a year or just a few months. Here’s a few stories of the people we serve.

How They Farm

ALBA’s farm has been certified organic since 1992 and requires every farm at ALBA to earn or renew CCOF certification each year. Though most are experienced farmers, they pick up new conservation practices in their time at ALBA. Underlying everything taught is the principle: “take care of the soil, and it will take care of you.” 

Here are the standard conservation practices ALBA taught at ALBA:

A cover crop of cereal rye (a grass) is required of our farmers to protect the soil from erosion, recycle nutrients, and to build precious organic matter in the soil. Watered by the winter rains, the crop is plowed back into the ground after reaching chest high in late February. This provides nutrients for the following crop, and also improves the soil structure that is important for retaining moisture, fertility, and a healthy microbiome. The cash crops following cover crops almost always have increased yields. It can be difficult to convince new farmers to pass up a cash crop for a season but they soon catch on. One such farmer coined the phrase, “Sin cobertura, no hay verdura,” which translates to “No cover crop, no vegetables.”
Crop rotation is carefully planned to ward off soil disease. Plant strawberries after tomatoes? No way! Tomatoes are in a family of plants called Solanaceae together with other favorites like peppers and potatoes. Though staples of our diet, they are also hosts for a soil disease (verticillium wilt) that can be devastating to strawberries. So, remember: “Better a brassica, like broccoli, before berries!”
Soil testing is an important step to gauge what the soil needs before applying amendments, potentially saving much needed resources for the farmers and preventing the loss of nutrients that can contaminate our aquifers, creeks, and eventually the ocean.
Compost is applied to any ground that doesn’t go into cover crop. Five tons is applied on each acre, along with a ton of gypsum. This helps restore organic matter that is lost to tillage and the application of nitrogen fertilizer. The organic matter improves soil structure, and acts a reservoir of nutrients and water.
Drip tape is also encouraged to efficiently deliver irrigation to the crops that they grow, which suppresses weeds in the dry season.
Insectary flower strips are planted inside of fields, with native hedgerows lining the perimeter. These provide habitat for beneficial insects, which help control the pests. Organic pesticides are applied only as a last resort. 
Weeds are always an issue in organic farming, often managed with the asset that our farmers have in abundance: good-old fashioned hard work. Families work in unison along parallel rows skimming weeds off bed tops with their trusty hula hoes.

It truly can be said that our farmers have a deep connection with each crop they cultivate. It shows in their eyes when we visit their plots and they proudly show off their work.  These practices (and many others) not only lead to success in organic farming but also contribute to a healthier environment. Unlike the rest of the industry, which moves to Yuma for the winter, ALBA farmers stay home to grow high biomass cover crops that are plowed back into the earth, sequestering over 20 tons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases.  

After passing through massive, mono-crop fields, ALBA’s farm bursts with a diversity of vegetables, herbs and strawberries. With the windbreaks of corn and sunflower, and blossoming hedgerows bisecting colorful fields, the farm looks like a patchwork quilt from above. Sure, the rows may not be perfectly straight, but we are a school after all. Spring is a beautiful time of the year at ALBA. The last of the winter rains leave everything shiny and fresh, and birdsong fills the air. The once tall cover crops have returned to the earth, and the broccoli, chard and kale planted in the winter are a now sea of green. The strawberries begin to blossom in March, a fragrant reminder of a relentless harvesting season soon to come. By May, berries are in full swing and summer crops have been planted, the most popular being heirloom tomatoes, spicey peppers, and zucchini. Through the dog days of summer, they grow alongside other staples that make the Salinas Valley famous like various lettuce varieties, red beets and rainbow carrots. Fall crops are as varied as the falling leaves soaking in the last gasp of summer heat. In late October, cooling temperatures and the first rains close the books on summer crops. Traditions from Mexico endure in cultivating heirloom corn and the planting of marigolds for the Day of the Dead. Celery is the main crop leading up to Thanksgiving, and romaine continues through early December before new ground is worked up and rested to prepare for winter crops. The strawberries of next spring are planted alongside cover crops in mid-November, neither of which will make a peep for months other than begging for winter showers. And so the cycle continues…

Where They Grow

ALBA’s Alumni Farms…

  • Acevedo Organic Farm
  • Ambrosio Organic Farms
  • Avalos Farm
  • Avila Farms
  • Bucio Organic Farms
  • Buena Vista Organics
  • Catalan Farms
  • Chelito Organic Farms
  • Christina’s Organics, Inc.
  • Cisneros Farm
  • D. Martinez Organic Farms
  • Dirt House Farm
  • El Zenzotle Farm
  • Gallardo’s Organics Farms
  • Green Goddess Farms
  • Green Ribbon Organic Farms
  • Green Thumb Organics
  • Ground Stew Organics
  • Hall’s Organic Farms
  • Hector’s Organic Farm
  • Hernandez Farm
  • Hummingbird Ranch
  • J&F Farms
  • JAS Organics
  • JSM Organics
  • La Milpa Organic Farms
  • Los Pinos Organic Farms
  • Magana Farms
  • Maria Narez Farm
  • Martin’s Farm
  • Mendoza Organics
  • Modern Times Olive Oil
  • Mossy Oak Ranch
  • Narci Organic Farm
  • November Ranch
  • Organic Boys
  • Oya Organics
  • Perez Flowers
  • Rancho Las Palmas
  • Rancho Las Tres Marias
  • RHJ Organics
  • Silva Organic Farms
  • Tu Universo Farm
  • Ventura Organic Farms
  • Vigil Farms

…Operating on the Central Coast*

*The farms listed outnumber the pins because 18 farms are located land at 4 sites.

Why It’s Important

Cecilia Rojas_family

ALBA is focused on economic opportunity for field laborers whose farming experience, work ethic and entrepreneurial drive make them capable of higher achievement if given the opportunity. In fact, ALBA is a showcase for what immigrant farmworkers can do if given access to resources and education. Disregarding them as ‘unskilled labor’ ignores the fact that agriculture is highly dependent on their work and that they seem to be the only people willing and able to do it.

To deal with the farm labor shortage, large growers are scrambling to mechanize their way out of the problem. But the strategy is highly reliant on machinery, pesticides, and a global export strategy, which negatively impact worker and environmental health, and has wreaked havoc on the American family farm. There are arguments for this style of farming in terms of higher crop yields, lower production cost, which translates to food affordability.

ALBA would argue, however, that there is a need for a better balance between ‘conventional’ and sustainable farming practices, between large and small farms and greater racial diversity in ownership. Why? Consider where we are now. Once the cornerstone of the rural economy, small and mid-sized commercial farms are all but extinct. Farm numbers are down 70% from their historic peak of near 7 million, and most do not provide a living. Two-thirds (67%) of today’s 2 million farms have sales under $20,000, which together generate just 1% of all farm revenue. In contrast, the largest 4% of farms clear $1 million in sales and together take in 70% of all farm revenue.

Despite strong growth since the 1990s, organic farms and farmland remain less than 1% of the total. Racial imbalances in American agriculture are even more stark. For decades, Latinos have comprised an overwhelming majority of field labor, yet they still own just 4% of farms. With American farm owners now averaging nearly 60 years in age and being 93% white, a radical change in the demographics of farm ownership is long overdue.

ALBA believes that the hope for a resurgence of the small and mid-scale, sustainable family farm – and the rural economy along with it – relies on tapping into the talent and motivation of a younger, highly motivated and racially diverse cohort of aspiring farmers. To do our part, ALBA is hard at work to ‘flip the script’ by serving aspiring farmers who are 90% Latino and averaging 30 years of age. They are establishing viable organic farms 5 to 20 acres, using regenerative practices, while relying on family labor and selling into local markets. A proliferation of small and mid-scale family owned and operated farms, will go a long way toward providing a pathway to greater personal and economic freedom for immigrant field laborers, while restoring the environment and reviving rural economies.

Over the last 20 years, ALBA has provided intensive, on-farm training to over 500 limited-resource farmers. Nearly 200 went on to launch a farm on ALBA’s land and over 100 eventually transitioned to their own land to farm independently. Hundreds more went back to the workforce to secure better-paying jobs. A 2018 survey of 104 alumni revealed that 47% of respondents were operating a farm enterprise. The number still earning under $30,000 dropped by half after leaving the program and those earning over $50,000 nearly quintupled. When asked whether ALBA improved their career or business prospects, over 80% answered positively.