The Crown Jewel of the Farmers' Market
Beets, kale, cauliflower, and other seasonal varieties picked that morning cascade down Avila Farms' table at the farmers' market like a veggie waterfall.
To the public, Avila Farms is known for growing and selling organic, pesticide free produce in markets around California’s Central Coast region. But to Jeanette Avila, daughter of Ruben and Dominga Avila who started the farm more than 20 years ago, the farm represents family.
“My brother and I would drive around with my parents when we were kids, and I remember feeling so bored hearing my parents talk about how well the plants were doing, which ones needed more water, and so on,” Jeanette remembers. “Now I understand it. It’s not just about growing plants, it’s about creating life.”
"Our customers are thinking of us when they sit down for dinner. Who else gets to feel that gratitude?"
Before Avila Farms came to be, Dominga and Ruben met at a farm that they were working at in Watsonville. Dominga picked fruits and vegetables while Ruben tractored the land.
After working for other farms, Dominga had an idea: To start their own farm, which took some convincing.
“My dad wasn’t sure about doing their own growing and selling because of all the expensive equipment they would need, but my mom never stopped pushing,” mentions Jeanette.
They started their farm on what was originally a six-acre plot of land, and then bought a second 20-acre plot several years later in Hollister. “After we got into farmers’ markets, our whole family was involved in the farm,” says Jeanette. She remembers staying late during summer and winter breaks to help, and her parents working 16-hour days during the busy seasons.
The connection with Mandela Partners’ food hub, Mandela Produce Distribution, helped Avila Farms with their next phase of growth. They met the Mandela team at one of their farmers’ markets.
“They wanted to buy produce from us, and they told us [that] they could connect us with a loan that allowed us to pay them back in vegetables versus cash. We’d never heard of a loan like that before.” recalls Jeanette.
She was referring to a program that Mandela Partners offers called Harvest to Market Loan, which is administered in partnership with FarmLink. Instead of using traditional loan requirements, loan eligibility is based on a farmer’s needs and history of partnership with Mandela Partners. The farmer pays an interest rate of 2.5% and ‘repays’ Mandela Partners in produce.
Each year, Mandela Produce Distribution buys fruits and vegetables from Avila Farms--part of Mandela’s network of 20 sustainable growers--that is distributed to retail partners and produce pick-up locations in limited-resourced communities of Alameda County.
“The people at Mandela [Partners] are always looking for ways to help the farmers,” Jeanette mentions. “As farmers, we don’t have time to attend conventions that offer trainings. Mandela [Partners] comes to us, and connects us to food safety trainings, helps us with certifications we need, and supports us in selling at other stores.”
Avila Farms shows us just how closely farming and family are linked--building a deeper connection with the earth and each other to the rhythm of the changing seasons.
“When I think about all the good this farm has given us, I think about keeping going and making it better for everyone who has been there to help us. All the employees who have been there to help us have felt like family,” says Jeanette.
Today, Jeanette, her parents, and five siblings keep the farm going. Jeanette also has a newfound appreciation. “Our customers are thinking of us when they sit down for dinner. Who else gets to feel that gratitude? It makes all the hard work worth it!”