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US: Program trains farmworkers to be organic farmers

Bending over beds of shriveled strawberry plants, former farmworker Domitila Martinez pulls pieces of black plastic row covers in preparation for next season's planting. Except this time, she's the boss. Martinez, who escaped the civil war in El Salvador three decades ago, used to pack tomatoes and harvest grapes for long hours and little pay in Central California. Then, one day, she heard an announcement on the radio: She could become a grower herself.
The Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association, known as ALBA, helps bring minority, low-income farmworkers into a profession long dominated by Anglos. Since the program started in 2001, it has created more than 80 small farm businesses.

With demand for locally grown and organic food skyrocketing, more people have become interested in farming in recent years, spurting a growth in farmer training programs. But few programs focus on immigrants, especially Latinos, who historically have had difficulty making it as farmers because of language and cultural barriers, lack of resources, and lack of government support.

ALBA gives farmworkers, most of whom are first generation Latino immigrants, the opportunity to move up the job ladder, teaching them crop planning, production, marketing and distribution skills.

"A lot of farmworkers are working tirelessly to invest in their children's futures, but ALBA gives them the opportunity to improve their lives within their lifetime," said program manager Nathan Harkleroad.

Other programs include Oregon-based nonprofit Adelante Mujeres, which offers a 12 week Spanish-language sustainable farming class, as well as access to land, technical assistance and a farmers market; and the Center For Latino Farmers in Washington state, which conducts workshops, provides resources and other assistance.

At ALBA's 90-acre ranch in the Salinas Valley, an area known as "the Salad Bowl of the World," participants attend bi-weekly classes during six-months of intensive training. They learn about pests and planting, beneficial insects and cover crops. They meet with guest speakers ranging from local farmers to university biologists. They visit irrigation supply stores, compost suppliers, farms and farmers markets.


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