Supporting the Environment and Healthy Food for Latino Markets

Project Overview

FNC07-686
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $15,410.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Co-Coordinators:

Commodities

  • Additional Plants: herbs

Practices

  • Crop Production: greenhouses
  • Production Systems: aquaponics, hydroponics
  • Soil Management: composting
  • Sustainable Communities: community development

    Summary:

    [Editor’s Note: The following report includes the project report submitted by Alma and Margarito Ramos as well as information from a phone interview.]

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    We built a greenhouse. Our crop was vegetables. The project area was 3 acres. Cover crops were used.

    Sustainable Practices Used before Receiving the Grant: At my home, I would plant in my garden. Others such as family and friends would help and we had a great time doing this together and much of the planting was successful.

    We had been doing this a few years prior to the grant.

    I was also in the Minnesota Food Association (MFA) program for three years and I went to Growing Power Conferences in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

    [Editor’s Note: For more information on MFA see: http://www.mnfoodassociation.org/ or contact:
    Minnesota Food Association
    14220-B Ostlund Trail North
    Marine on St. Croix, MN 55047
    651-433-3676 PHONE
    651-433-5050 FAX

    The following is a description of the organization from their website: Minnesota Food Association is dedicated to growing farmers and growing food. The Big River Farms Program of Minnesota Food Association (MFA) operates an immigrant and minority farmer training program together with a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and wholesale distribution service. Our aim is to equip farmers with the skills and knowledge to operate their own viable organic and sustainable vegetable farming enterprise, while providing fresh, organic produce to local consumers by the farmers-in-training and promoting a more sustainable food system. MFA is a nonprofit organization counting on generous tax-exempt donor support.

    For more information on Growing Power see: http://www.growingpower.org/ or contact:
    Growing Power Milwaukee Headquarters and Urban Farm
    5500 W. Silver Spring Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53218
    Tel. 414.527.1546 / Fax 414.527.1908
    staff@growingpower.org
    Hours: 9a.m.-5p.m.

    Growing Power Chicago Projects Office
    3333 S. Iron Street, Chicago, Illinois 60608
    Tel. 773.376.8882
    chicago@growingpower.org

    The following description is from the Growing Power website: Growing Power is a national nonprofit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities. Growing Power implements this mission by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance through the development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner.]

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION
    The plan was to raise chemical-free produce and herbs outside and in a greenhouse environment using hydroponics, aquaponics, and experimental insect deterrent methods and red-worm composting. The market is our Latino community.

    Goals: My goals were to grow Mexican herbs and sell fresh produce to the community.

    This was not very successful due to the consumers not wanting to pay for this sort of produce, however family and friends did buy from me and gave great compliments on how fresh and clean the produce tasted and looked.

    PROCESS
    Logic:
    • Growing local. People are interested in fresh local produce and for it to be healthy.
    • Global warming is an issue so I wanted to try to help with putting only good chemicals into the soil and ground.

    Steps:
    • Training through Minnesota Food Association for three years to obtain my organic certification — this also was to familiarize myself with crops and weather and soil.
    • Going to several conferences to learn more about farming.

    Details: Margarito used an herbal spray to repel insects on plants. He learned about herbal sprays when he visited Growing Power.

    Margarito made the spray from basil leaves and the seeds from hot pepper plants. The pepper seeds were his idea. He saved the seeds and the white membrane from the peppers the family used for eating. These included habanero and jalapeno peppers.

    He mixed about one half cup of the seeds with a bushel of basil in a blender. He made it into a paste then added water. He sprayed three times during the growing season, spraying the leaves a little, and the ground, and near the bottom of the plants. This worked great and there were no pests on the plants all season. Right before harvest, a fungus moved in that produced black spots on the leaves and fruit and destroyed the tomato crop (three acres). A Peace Corp worker and J.R. Johnson Supply company representatives came to visit the plantings throughout the year and they thought the plants looked great, until the fungus came on. Margarito contracted with Sysco to buy his tomatoes but that fell through when the crop was ruined by the fungus.

    Margarito hired three men to help with the farm but it was still too much to handle. The farm land Margarito rents is 35 miles from his home. The hoop house/greenhouse he used is closer but is at a different location from the farmland.

    He used compost to start the seeds and grow the seedlings but did not use worm tea or compost on the growing plants. They didn’t need additional fertilizer.

    PEOPLE:
    • Alma Milan Edelia Ramos
    • Margarito Milan Ramos
    • Chris Kieffer assisted with paperwork.
    • Porfirio Perez is a producer. He assisted me with his knowledge on growing and he also attended MFA.
    • Edwin and others
    • Domingo Abarcas

    Some of the people working on the project changed due to the travel distance to the farm and not having enough time to work on the project due to their own work and projects.

    J. R. Johnson Supply company of Roseville, MN. This company sent people to my field to make sure my crops were healthy and pest free.

    RESULTS:
    I grew three acres of crops. I sold around $2,000 worth of crops. I had my local loyal customers and they told other about my crop and ideas.

    Aquaponics: Margarito hoped to make another trip to Growing Power and have someone from Growing Power visit and provide assistance with the aquaponic system.

    Margarito worked with his landlord (who he rents the farm land from) to prepare for aquaponics. They dug a well by hand and got a generator, but didn’t have the time to set the system up. He still hopes to raise tilapia like they do at Growing Power and is hoping he can start this next year. He is working with a friend, Jose Pescina, who is also interested in aquaponics and they talk about it when they get together.

    Although Growing Power was still willing to come, they felt it would be of more benefit when the aquaponic part of the project was further along so the consultation has not occurred yet.

    Mexican Crops: Margarito tried some crops to appeal to the Mexican market including Hoja Santa, a plant with heart-shaped leaves that is used to wrap fish or meat; in soups like egg drop, beef, and goat soup; with Mexican cheese; and on sandwiches. (Margarito flew on an airline that put the leaves on chicken sandwiches and he thought they were delicious). Sysco was interested in buying the Hoja Santa, but when Margarito looked up more information on the plants, he found a caution:

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    “The essential oils within the leaf are rich in safrole, a substance also found in sassafras, which has been shown to be carcinogenic in animals. In 1960, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned sassafras bark along with sassafras oil and safrole as flavoring agents because of their carcinogenic properties[13] and the Council of Europe imposed the same ban in 1974,[16] although toxicological studies show that humans do not process safrole into its carcinogenic metabolite.[17]”

    Even though studies showed that humans don’t process safrole into its carcinogenic metabolite, Margarito was concerned about selling the plant. He received reassurance from a MN Dept of Ag representative but wasn’t able to get that in writing, which is what he felt he needed to sell to Sysco.

    Margarito tried growing Epozote but he couldn’t get enough money for it to make it worth his while.

    He considered growing Jicama, which grows as a root crop like potatoes, but it would take more than five months to grow to the size necessary for a good price. Margarito didn’t want to pay for heating the greenhouse so didn’t try this crop.

    He did try Comba (a bean). It grew well in the greenhouse but needs a long season – 7 months – and again, he didn’t want to spend the money to heat the greenhouse.

    Margarito started a little market and restaurant two years ago in Blaine, MN where there are customers who appreciate local and organic food and are willing to pay for it. Margarito buys produce from friends for now to sell at the market. He sells it as chemical-free. He would like to expand the market over time.

    Another farm organization (he has been working with Minnesota Food Association, MFA) has opportunities for land close to the city and Margarito is working with them to see if he could have hoop houses. Due to the “crazy” weather, he feels they are necessary for chemical-free production.

    He still has his Sysco contact and would like to try marketing to Sysco in the future.

    Margarito is concentrating on the market now, and will expand to include other things like aquaponics as he can.

    DISCUSSION
    I learned it is very hard to keep organic production going. Weather changes were my biggest downfall. This affected my farm and caused a loss.

    The advantage, I would say, is I learned a lot about how farming works. I leaned I need to grow most of the crops indoors. I leaned that people around me enjoy fresh organic produce.

    The disadvantage is companies are not willing to pay money for crops such as mine unless it is priced below selling price.

    My only recommendation to farmers and ranchers are that growing indoors will help with pest control and weather issues.

    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.