Latino Farmers Conference Offers Templates for Success, Exceeds Expectations

Taylor HillmanGeneral

From Brawley to Butte and from Napa to Santa Maria, almost 200 Latino farmers and about 100 agency and business representatives gathered today in Fresno for a conference called Growing Together.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) teamed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to host the first-of-its-kind conference in Spanish for Latino farmers and ranchers to help them build profitable and sustainable operations.

“This is the first time we have attempted anything like this and we are simply delighted by the response,” said Carlos Suarez, state conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “I am impressed by the diverse cross section of California agriculture attending. People have come here from so many places and they grow a rainbow of conventional and organic products from carrots to strawberries to grapes.”

Keynote Speaker Vanessa Robledo is a fourth-generation grape farmer who is now a partner of Black Coyote Wines in Napa and has her own consulting firm. Robledo may have proven especially inspiring to the approximately one-third of the attending farmers who were women.

Lunchtime entertainment was provided by Danzantes de Aztlan from Fresno State University. The dancers were followed by a brief address from Assembly Member Luis Alejo who discussed ground water and labor issues.

Five 90-minute workshops were repeated three times throughout the day allowing participants to choose among Access to Financing and USDA Resources;Managing Nitrogen Levels and Soil Health; Efficient Use of Water; Managing Good Bugs, Bad Bugs and Weeds; and Marketing.

The conference concluded with a panel of four successful Latino farmers who shared tips on everything from using USDA programs, to going organic, to managing limited water resources. The conference response so exceeded expectations that many agency and agribusiness attendees agreed to stand, giving limited seating space to farmers.

“USDA’s Latino Farmers Conference was very well received by attendees who help feed our nation,” said Farm Service Agency State Director Oscar Gonzales. “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is committed to expanding opportunities for Latino farmers.”

Growing Together was held at the Fresno Radisson Conference Center today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The conference received significant sponsorship from seven organizations and from 26 companies and agencies who rented space for information booths.

According to USDA statistics Hispanic farmers are the fastest rising sector in the U.S. agricultural economy, growing twice as fast as U.S. farm operators overall. From 2007 to 2012, Hispanic growers grew approximately 21 percent.