Meet Juan Raygoza. He and his family have worked hard to create Terra Preta Farm in deep southern Texas - -balancing other jobs and staying up to the wee hours of Saturday morning prepping for market.
And their hard work is paying off. Besides building a loyal customer base and grown some fine produce, this year they took a big step towards fulfilling their farm dream and are growing on land they can call their own.
What do you produce? We produce over 30 different vegetables and have a CSA. In the fall and spring we grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, corn, cucumbers, melons, etc. In the winter we grow carrots, broccoli, celery, and a variety of winter greens. Our best crops are tomatoes and kale.
What are your markets? The Rio Grande Valley has a growing clean food movement. We market directly to families through our CSA Program. We also have a steady customer base at farmers’ markets and local restaurants. We have attended many farmers markets from Mission, TX to Brownsville, TX. Our main market is The Market at McAllen and Weslaco.
We look forward to expanding to be able to serve all the markets regularly.
Do you farm full-time or have any other jobs? Right now I farm part time but I hope in the near future that I'll be able to do it full time.
What made you want to become a farmer? I come from a family with agriculture background. Since I was a young kid I decided I wanted to study agriculture, and I did! I did small farm projects while I was in school and later on I worked for the private agriculture industry and I saw firsthand the large amount of chemicals that are used. I decided to start my own farm and grow food without the use of chemicals and secure clean food for my family.
What other jobs have you done in the past? I’ve worked several years in landscaping, greenhouse production, and corn seed production. Always in contact with the soil.
Why do you feel natural practices are important? For two very important reasons: protect human health and the environment.
Why did you get involved with CNG? We wanted our customers to know we were committed to providing produce grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers and CNG allowed us to do it without having to pay a huge amount of money and without filling out extensive paperwork.
What is unique or unusual about your farm? We possess a deep respect for the earth and a personal responsibility and commitment to producing quality food. It is what we serve our children. We have very humble beginnings. We began with a few tomato transplants growing in an extra room. We started our family farm on a garden plot borrowed from a kind neighbor. We are farmers because we love it!
How did you choose your farm name? Terra Preta means "black earth" in Portuguese and is a type of very dark, fertile soil found in the Amazon Basin, the soil in this region was greatly improved by the native Indians in a relatively infertile zone. We see soil fertility as the core of successful organic farming. We focus on soil remineralization and keeping an active soil life and hope that one day our soils will be as fertile as Terra Preta soils.
What was your most positive farming experience? I love when people at the market or from our CSA, compliment our vegetables, also when I get to talk to young kids and one of them gets excited about starting a garden.
Talk about the biggest challenge you’ve encountered as a farmer. Land and Water. We struggled a lot when we were looking for a piece of land that was available, chemical free and with good water supply. The irrigation design for this agricultural region is aimed at large scale farmers and with the wide variety of vegetables we grow, our water requirements are very unusual.
(When) have you wished you hadn’t become a farmer? While washing veggies at 1am on Friday night for Saturday morning market. But hearing our customers’ satisfaction and appreciation the next morning always reminds of why I love being a farmer.
Favorite vegetable: Carrots, I can eat them in the field as a snack, Juice them the next day or roast them in the oven with some spices.
What's something you learned the hard way on the farm? Weeds are best picked when they are small. Weekly weeding is a priority.
Most unusual farm tool. One of my first purchases as a farmer was a used transplanter called Potiputtki that is made in Finland, and it is still very practical and useful. I can transplant a lot of plants in a short time.
How do you include customers in your farming operation? We encourage all our customers to visit our farm and see how we grow their food. We also have customers who volunteer around the farm from time to time. Last season had several of our CSA members and their home school association visit our farm.
What advice would you give to a farmer just starting out? Visit other farms and mingle with other farmers, Experience and Ideas are very important when you’re starting out.
Who is your hero in the food and farming world? I admire a few, but someone that really inspired me is Brenton Johnson, from JBG organics.
If you were magic and could change one thing about our food system, what would it be? Chemicals banned forever!
What’s your most useful piece of clothing for working on the farm? My boots and palm leaf hat! It’s essential in the Texas heat.
Favorite season? Why? Fall and Winter, because since we have mild winters, most of the time we get to grow spring crops again and lots of leafy greens
What plans or hopes do you have for your farm in the future? In the past, we have borrowed and leased acreage and will be starting this season on our own land! We plan to expand our production to include fruit trees and farm fresh eggs. We want to make our products more accessible to customers. We want to increase our CSA membership and be able to serve more families in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. We plan to attend more local markets regularly and market to restaurants and schools. In the future, we would love to open a farm stand on the farm.
We hope that the farm’s new home will be a center of the community where all can visit and learn more about natural farming and healthy eating. We hope to have more volunteer involvement, provide workshops, and collaborate with researchers in improving natural farming practices.