A Farm Worker’s Daughter Turned Strawberry Farm Owner
Over the past few years, agricultural farm workers have been in the spotlight more than ever. The invisibility of a marginalized workforce who grow and farm our food as essential workers hits many intersections. We saw the impact on farm workers’ health and socio economics from volatile climate change bringing on drought seasons, wildfires in California to now, protecting farm workers from Covid-19. Farm workers are essential to our food system and greater communities, but should not be sacrificial.
As a result of the growing issues and concerns for farm workers, a number of advocacy organizations like Justice for Migrant Women have formed to ensure farm workers rights, safety, security and more equitable work environments are achieved through educating lawmakers and the public.
With new focus on social justice and advocacy of wealth creation for people of color, a generational shift is happening. Less than 3% of farms are owned and operated by Latinx, while more than 83% are Latinx farm field workers. Race and exclusionary measures have kept wealth generation from people of color, we have seen this with Black ownership of farms and the practice of redlining in North American cities.
When we came across a California Strawberry campaign on one of our social media feeds, Mayra Paniagua, a farm worker turned farm owner – – – we had to publish her story.
Mayra is the proud owner of Golden State Farms in Santa Maria, California. But first, did you know 90% of U.S.-grown strawberries come from California, and generations of dedicated farmers continue to grow healthy, sustainable fruit like strawberries that are tender, sweet, and vibrant? We love our California strawberries! Next time you enjoy a strawberry, say ¡gracias! to the farm workers and farm owners like Mayra!
Mayra is a first generation Latina college graduate who began her journey as a strawberry farmer seven years ago. We will learn about Mayra’s motivation to become a business owner, a farm owner to be exact with her family being the #1 motivator — a family of strength and resilience.
BoldLatina: What inspired you to start Golden State Farms? When/How did your passion for strawberry farming begin?
The reason I do what I do is really for my family. My connection with strawberries began while I was in my mother’s womb, as she was picking in the fields – I’ve been surrounded by strawberries my entire life. My motivation to continue farming is deeply rooted in my family’s strength and resilience.
BoldLatina: What struggles have you faced as a Latina in the agricultural business? How did you overcome these challenges?
As a Latina in a male dominated industry, there are a number of challenges, such as representation. Oftentimes, I am the only woman in the room, which has provided a space for personal and professional growth. I have developed confidence in myself and the work that I do. It is important to demonstrate that the voice and work of Latinas matter.
Other challenges include land accessibility and obtaining financing to begin farming. For beginning and minority farmers, there are a number of local, state, and federal programs and resources available to help finance farming operations. With regard to land accessibility, this is a challenge that I am still working on – my goal is purchase my own land to farm.
BoldLatina: What tips can you provide our audience if they want to start a business centered around agriculture/environmental industry?
I definitely encourage you to find a mentor – someone who can offer assistance and guidance as you navigate this industry. This individual can be someone in a position who you admire and look up to, someone who may have years of experience or come from a similar background – dedicate time to cultivating that relationship. When starting a business, it is also important to build a team that is motivated and inspired to grow with you. With agriculture, teamwork is essential.
BoldLatina: What was your experience growing up in California? Can you tell us about your journey as the first member in your family to receive a college education?
“Echale ganas, mija.” These words have always followed me throughout my journey. As the daughter of migrant farmworkers and one of the oldest of six siblings, my journey has been a beautiful experience filled with many life lessons. I have learned to manage uncertainty, which has helped me move beyond my comfort zone despite fear and doubt.
As the first on both sides of my family to graduate from college, I am grateful for my family for all of their love and support. Sin duda, estos logros son de nosotros.
BoldLatina: What are some of your observations/opinions about climate change and its impact on farmers and migrant workers?
Earth is our home. It is our responsibility to take care of her. These past few years, California has experienced extreme weather conditions such as fires, drought, floods, and excessive heat. Climate change directly impacts the agriculture industry. Unhealthy air quality and safety concerns affect working conditions, which limits work availability for farmers and migrant field workers. Due to these environmental changes, we have also seen entire crops destroyed and unable to be harvested as well as scarcity of water affecting farmers.
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BoldLatina: What observations have you made regarding the agricultural industry and the food we eat?
California is the largest agricultural economy in the country and one of the top 5 in the world. The world depends on CA’s farmers and migrant workers. The work we do as farmers is invaluable. It is key to the preservation of humanity. We as farmers have a major responsibility – we are responsible for feeding the world.It is important that farmers work in balance with nature and prioritize sustainable practices. The key is to cultivate crops with care and stay connected to the needs of the Environment.
BoldLatina: What are you personally looking forward to with the business you are building?
I am looking forward to expanding my business with value-added products, owning my own land, and building generational wealth to pass on to the generations to come. I want to instill in them the importance of farming and demonstrate to them that it is a rewarding profession. In addition, I am looking forward to seeing those around me on my team succeed and also build generational wealth. This includes everyone from my mentors to my crew to our customers who enjoy our berries. El sol nace para todos y lo creo firmemente.
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BoldLatina: What do you believe our Latina/x community challenges are right now?
There are a number of systemic challenges affecting our Latinx community, including
immigration reform, education equity, and financial literacy. What’s inspiring is that by working together we can overcome these challenges. I wholeheartedly believe la unión hace la fuerza.
BoldLatina: If you could change one thing about the world today that would make it better for women, especially women of color/Latina/x/Black Women, what would it be?
Reconocer la importancia de la mujer – reconocer que la mujer es sagrada. Hay que honrar a la mujer. La fuerza de la mujer es lo que crea la fuerza en el mundo. Como dijo Beyonce, who run the world? GIRLS
BoldLatina: What in your opinion, makes someone a BoldLatina? Any advice for other Bold Latinas out there you would like to share?
A BoldLatina is an electromagnetic being that has the power within her to make this world a better place. She does everything out of love because she knows that love is the highest vibration and love has the power to transform lives. That’s what a BoldLatina does – she transforms the world.
My advice to all BoldLatinas is to be unapologetically YOU. Do what you do out of love.
Keep shining your light!
Aquí estamos para apoyarnos! Mi respeto y admiración a toda mujer Latina. Todas somos UNA!