Mario has been farming for 9 years on farms or land that are not his own. He currently has a microgreen operation at his home and works for a non-profit providing technical support to small farmers in Texas and New Mexico.
He also has a landless farm operation called
With the idea that you don’t necessarily need to own land to have a farm, Desierto Verde is a farm with no established land: some seasons we lease an acre to plant quantity and diversity of crops to supply several markets, some seasons we plant on a friend’s backyard, and some other years we harvest just from our small greenhouse located on central of El Paso. For the last years, we have been focused on small and gourmet crops, like microgreens and petite vegetables full of flavor and very visually attractive. In Desierto Verde, we like to do research to see what crops grow better in this beautiful but extreme weather. Our farm produces tons of compost derived from the intensive microgreens planting techniques, compost that is used in other farms to grow more delicious produce!
I was first brought to farming because I was unemployed.
I’m from Mexico and I moved to the United States and wasn’t able to work legally because I was waiting for my resident card.
I was using Facebook and a farm in El Paso posted that they were recruiting volunteers to learn how to farm and to learn about ancestral foods.
At the same time I was deciding what to do with my life.
I wanted to be a chef, and I learned that, in order to have awesome ingredients, I needed to grow my own food.
I was reading a seed catalog thinking:
‘I want those black radishes and I can’t get them.
I have to grow them.’
Months after, I applied to a ‘Farmer to Farmer’ training program in Anthony, New Mexico put on by the American Friends Service Committee.
I started in that program, and I was there for almost 3 years.
I started as a trainee.
then I became an assistant.
The third year, I was a trainer/farmer and I started planting for my own consumption.
After the third year, they gave me the opportunity to plant on ½ acre – 60 beds. It’s where I started the Desierto Verde project farm. They put the water and the land, and I was paying a monthly fee.
From there I received a farm manager position at another farm in New Mexico and Texas, and I farmed for two years for the owner.
Then, I started working for a restaurant – a really cool place that also has a farm… it wasn’t a farm, more like a small garden.
They hired me to develop the farm and I worked there for two years or a little bit more.
It’s where I learned a lot about specialty crops and what the restaurants are using, and more about cooking.
It’s a really interesting place because it’s right next to the border, you can see Juárez from the farm.
The wall is right there.
It was also sad because you can often see people crossing and getting caught by the border patrol.
And when I say often, it was twice per week.
I would always farm here and there, at a friend’s house or in my backyard.
I’m always planting in different places.
That is kind of the mission of Desierto Verde.
Now I want to keep working at La Semilla and in my backyard. Right now it’s starting to become a good business, my microgreen production. And I love to work for La Semilla supporting farmers- I want to put all my energy at La Semilla and in my microgreens production.
I think the main issue that I have had working for other farm owners is getting paid on time or getting paid at all.
That’s the main thing.
Farming is not always having a good income as a farm owner, and sometimes you struggle, no? And then you have issues paying your employees – that was the main issue, getting paid from my boss.
I call myself a farmer.
I started calling myself a farmer probably in my third year of farming when I started planting and selling and keeping 100% of the profits.
Right now I am comfortable (calling myself a farmer). I wasn’t before – I don’t know why.
It’s probably related to credit, farmers that have been farming for 20 or 30 years and I was kind of new and I’m still new, that’s why.
Now that I’m farming pretty much microgreens, I feel like I’m cheating a little bit because it’s easier and I’m not all day under the sun and it’s not as hard as a vegetable farmer, but I still call myself a vegetable farmer.
I think that most people think that the farmer is the owner, the white dude that has a lot of money and land and water; and the farm worker will be most of the time an immigrant who is weeding all the time or harvesting by the bucket.
But what I think is that the farm workers are the farmers and the farm owner is just the owner.
what keeps me going back to farming – a couple of things at least.
One will be flavors. I like knowing and trying new flavors. Every year I try to grow something new for me. That is something that always keeps me going back to farming.
Another reason is economics. There is always money to pay your bills when you sell produce.
It is also therapeutic. Planting a seed and seeing the seed grow, it’s therapeutic.
The qualities of a dream farm for me:
First is the size of the farm. I only want to work on a farm that is ½ of an acre, mainly to keep it clean, under control.
I worked for one year at a backyard farm (Myers Mushrooms vegetable farm), about 30′ x 60′ very small, but very intensive crop rotation, the yield was high and the income was good, no weeds at all.
Another must for my dream farm would be the relationship with the owner:
If it’s someone who only wants to make money, then forget it.
I have had a couple of bad experiences with farmers being misogynistic. I don’t want to be with someone who is like that.
I want to work at a farm with a mission and vision and similar values that I have – –
The values are respect for others, definitely. Not just not racist, but a person who is working to abolish racism, an activist. And someone who has a good relationship with the land and the people. Definitely sustainable farming or at least close to sustainable farming.
The production I have in my backyard, it’s the first time that I own property.
We bought the house last year in July so I feel like I can do more things – like the greenhouses, they are permanent. I’m not going to move them ever.
One of the greenhouses I’ve already moved three times.
Even though it’s not huge, it was hard. The other one is smaller, this is the second time that I’ve moved it.