Increasing Capacity for Latino Farmers' Seed and Food Production with Culturally Important Crops

Progress report for FNC23-1388

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $29,920.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: North Circle Seeds
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Zachary Paige
North Circle Seeds
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Project Information

Description of operation:

All farmers in team grant are certified organic.
Zachary Paige of North Circle Seeds (NCS) holds an MA in plant breeding from Iowa State University and has been farming for over ten years. NCS sells over 70 varieties of certified organic seed both wholesale in over 10 Minnesota grocery food co-ops and from their website Zachary is on the board for the Sustainable Farming Associations' state and regional chapter, board president of his local food co-op, MANNA foods in Detroit Lakes and the Rural Sustainable Development Partnership Board through the UMN. Zachary will teach seed saving and selection techniques for pepper and corn to mitigate disease and select for high yielding crops with Rodrigo, Javier and the Latino Farmers in the Shared Ground Farmers Co-op to increase Latino farmer seed processing capacity. Zachary is 25% Latino himself and speaks some Spanish which will help for communication. He will provide a market for selling seeds for all the crops through NCS, help find markets for food crops like the Indigenous Food Lab and will manage the project.

Rodrigo Cala has been farming for over twenty years, successfully completed the Big River Farms Immigrant & Minority Farmer Training Program, Organic Farming Training and GAP Training. In 2008, Rodrigo and his brother Juan Carlos purchased their farm, Cala Farm LLC in Turtle Lake Wisconsin. He works as a trainer and educator for the Latino Economic Development Center and he is a Co-owner of Shared Ground Farmers Coop a Multicultural Farmers-owners Marketing Business base on the Twin Cities area. Rodrigo will increase his garlic and pepper production with a new drying shed and will market a portion of his food crop to organic seed.

Javier Garcia manages Auga Gorda Cooperative certified organic farm in Long Prairie which started in Long Prairie, where he and his team produce fresh melons, tomatillos, tomatoes and peppers each growing season. He distributes Agua Gorda produce to Twin Cities households through the Shared Ground Farmers Co-op and restaurants like La Loma Tamales. Javier will purchase a 4-row corn planter with the aid of this project and increase corn production to plant up to five acres, as well as corn drying screens and a corn sheller to produce a food grade white corn product.

*Javier and Rodrigo don't use email as a primary contact, so please call/text him if they do not answer email right away.


According to the agricultural census, Emerging Latino farmers currently make up only 650 of Minnesota’s 112,000 farmers, and according to the Emerging Farmers in Minnesota (EFM) legislative report released in February 2021, over 99% of all Minnesota farmers are white.

Finding market opportunities as a Latino or immigrant farmer is challenging, especially for those who do not speak English or have an accent. Finding a market to sell the produce is an additional obstacle. 

Historically, land ownership in the state of Minnesota has favored white farmers. According to the EFM report, “well documented racial bias in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant and loan programs” has supported a system that keeps land away from people of color, women or other minorities, preventing them from accumulating wealth.

Agriculture is going to need to expand and make way for a new demographic of farmers who are younger and have an interest in selling produce different from soybeans or corn. In 2017, the average age of a U.S. farmer is 58 years old.

Project Objectives:



Our farmer/rancher project is a research and education project focusing on increasing capacity to expand vegetable and specialty crop markets to Latino Farmers in the Shared Ground Farmers Cooperative. Both Javier Garcia and Rodrigo Cala are leaders in the Latino farming community. In Long Prairie where Javier's farm is located, there are more Latino farmers who are interested in learning more about seed production. Rodrigo Cala works with Latino farmers through the Latino Economic Development Fund and is also farming with young Latino farmers. Minnesota based organic Open Pollinated seed collective, North Circle Seeds is working intentionally with BIPOC communities. Owner Zachary Paige is 25% Latino himself and speaks some Spanish. By growing together and sharing equipment, utilizing skills and connections from each farm, we are able to better support each other where each farm both individually and collectively will benefit from working together.

We will host Seed saving events annually at the North Circle Seeds (NCS) farm, in the newly constructed seed saving education building,

see link -

Zachary Paige of NCS will teach seed saving, and selection techniques to Rodrigo, Javier and ten Latino Farmers in the Shared Ground Farmers Cooperative for pepper, garlic, corn and all vegetable crops. North Circle Seeds has produced 10k garlic heads for seed for the past 8 years and will share planting and curing techniques. North Circle Seeds also began selling garlic with online sales which can be an additional market to sell garlic seed at a premium price.

We will increase the capacity for each of our markets by increasing the amount of seed and food we can collectively produce. Rodrigo and Paige will produce more garlic and hot peppers and Javier will produce more Mexican White Corn (up to 5 acres) and hot peppers. By purchasing additional equipment such as the Agriculex corn sheller to be used on Javier's farm, drying screens on all of the farms (for curing and drying garlic, peppers and pepper seed) and a new corn planter, we will be able to demonstrate and show how this equipment has been essential to helping Latino farmers make a profit farming specialty crops, as well as Mexican white corn used for culturally important food (elote, tortillas, and tamales) for their community. The increase to produce thousands of pounds of food corn will also open the markets to restaurants as well as the Indigenous Food Lab located in the Global Market, Minneapolis. The increase of capacity to grow more corn will also expand the market to sell more highly valued organic white corn seed for food.

We will utilize our partnership with University of Minnesota Extension Educator Ryan Pesch to aid us in creating our enterprise analysis surveys for seed and food products for all three farms. We will put in proposals to hold presentations at the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Conference, the Sustainable Farming Association Annual Conference, Indigenous Farming Conference, Emerging Farming Conference and Minnesota Organic Conference as well as post our story and findings in newsletters from organizations to their members.


• Increase Seed Saving and Seed production education with Rodrigo Cala, Javier Garcia and Latino farming community with the Shared Ground Farmer Collective and Agua Gorda Cooperative;
• Increase Seed production, market opportunity and seed resiliency to sell seed through North Circle Seeds and have seed stored on each farm;
• Expand food markets for jalapeño, ghost pepper, white corn and garlic for Latino farmers to rural grocery stores and restaurants and;
• Host Demonstration education events of seed saving techniques for farmers in the North Central region.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Rodrigo Cala - Producer
  • Javier Garcia - Producer


Materials and methods:

We purchased the materials we requested in the budget. Javier purchased a 4-row corn planter, Rodrigo made drying racks for garlic and peppers, and Zachary purchased seed screens to better clean the seed they produced to be good quality and germinate well to sell for the seed company, North Circle Seeds. The 4-row corn planter was used and purchased off Craig's List. It did the job, and planted approx 1/2 acre of white corn. Some kernels of a yellow dent got stuck in the planter so one or two plants out of the thousands had yellow kernels.

Research results and discussion:

Javier grew approximately 1/2 acre of white corn using his new 4-row corn planter he purchased with the funding from the SARE project. This entire corn planting would not have been possible without the SARE funding. We are planning to grow approximately 3 acres of white corn in 2024. We harvested the corn together by hand and used seed screens to dry the corn which was also a material item in the grant. Rodrigo purchased screens to process his garlic and peppers. He brought the unclean peppers to the North Circle Seeds farm in October when we had our gathering. In October we talked about seed saving at the North Circle Seeds farms and made plans for the next year as well as cleaning seed from 2023. We also spoke about seed saving practices that they brought back to their Latino Farmer group. Not many from the group were able to make it to the Seed Saving gathering, although Rodrigo stayed over a nearby hotel to be able to be on the North Circle Seeds Farm for the entire day.

We produced approximately 500 lbs. of quality seed corn, 200 lbs of garlic and about 3-4 oz of pepper seed. Both the seeds for the peppers and corn were noted to be at less than 10% moisture on the moisture meter that North Circle Seeds has. This is a good low moisture to be able to store the seeds for potentially multiple years and will positively benefit the economics of a seed company such as North Circle Seeds to be able to store seeds for longer. It also provides more resources to purchase seed from local producers. We didn't ever use conventional systems, although the materials increased our collective capacity to be able to offer increased organic crops and value-added products.

FNC23-1388 FNC23-1388 White Corn harvest
FNC23-1388 Project Team

Participation Summary
3 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

10 Consultations
1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 On-farm demonstrations
1 Tours
1 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days
3 Other educational activities: I provided information to other farm workers about the project and they got an up-close look at everything happening for the project.

Participation Summary:

3 Farmers participated
3 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Zachary and North Circle Seeds Farm held a field day on October 21st, 2023 from 8am - 5pm where Rodrigo Cala and Javier Garcia attended Seed Saving 101. It was a fruitful day, speaking about the basics of seed saving to be able to view and have hands-on experiences with the seen screens, harvesting process, storage process and packaging. Javier and Rodrigo also are interested in saving their own seeds, so this provided them with the opportunity to learn how a small seed company operates to produce high value and productive seed. They brought the information learned to the rest of their Latino Farm group.

Next year, we plan on having a larger turnout for the seed saving event. We will plan on speaking at the Sustainable Farming Association Annual Conference and the Indigenous Farming Conference about our findings in 2025, because at the moment our results of our work are still preliminary. We would like to have more results from both the 2023 and 2024 season before presenting our work and findings to others. We are planning to sell an increased amount of White Corn to the Indigenous Food Lab in Minneapolis for them to try and they will determine to purchase product from the Latino farmers moving forward for the corn tortilla products for the global market. We send them samples of the corn and we are in the works of forming a plan for the 2024 season.

Photos of our field day attached. 

Learning Outcomes

Lessons Learned:

Through the opportunity of this grant the three partner farmers learned how to collaborate and work together for the crops of garlic, peppers and corn. The 4 row corn planter works very well for an organic farming operation. The seed screens purchased from Seedburo also served the purpose and we were able to collectively save seed and clean it at one location. Cleaning seed at one location is necessary for the Organic inspection because 'handling' is done at one location. We overcame a barrier to work together more efficiently, as the seed saving workshop provided the tips and tricks to be able to produce high quality seed. The seed rack driers were also necessary to dry down the seed and crops and we saw this first hand on the field day together. We are looking forward to the 2024 season where we get a seed sheller and expand our white corn production for food and seed.

Project Outcomes

3 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant received that built upon this project
1 New working collaboration
Success stories:

The pepper seeds we produced will be offered as a part of the North Circle Seeds catalog. New varieties include Serrano and have more Jalapeño seed. We have more white corn to sell as a dry food product with Javier being able to grow over an acre of the corn with his new 4-row corn planter. Rodrigo was able to grow and dry more hardneck garlic for sale on his farm. We are in the preliminary stages of coming up with an idea for an additional value-added hot pepper product that we will collaborate on as well. We are very excited to be working together, and learn from each other.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.