Salvador and Misael Morales were last seen in Seattle a year ago holding poster-sized checks totaling $40,000. They were part of the Viva Farms crew, the 2011 big winners in the Social Innovation Fast Pitch.
If you think they retreated back to the farm afterwards for celebratory drinks you were wrong. Harvest season was coming to an end and the fields were beckoning.
Farming is not just the Morales’ brother passion however, it is their second job. Like many other Latino farmers at Viva Farms they work long days in some other field – like construction or house painting – which pay better than the average farm laborer job.
Afterwards they head to their own 2 -acre plot of land picking crops on the Viva Farm fields for 5 hours every night plus 10 hours on the weekends.
But this one holds their future.
On this day Misael bends over rows of lettuce looking for big, healthy heads.
“The more you keep moving the better off you’ll live.” says Salvador who is cleaning each one individually in a little wagon filled with water at the end of the field.
The road to financial independence has not been easy. The brothers have been farmers since they were 6 or 7 years old plucking corn on their parent’s farm in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Since coming to this country 20 years ago Salvador said the closest he could get to owning his own farm was playing “Farmville” on Facebook. It made him think “How could I get a real farm?’
“Finding land is really hard.” he says “but it’s getting easier because people see us working and they know that we can do it.”
Ethan Schaffer, Director of Business and Organizational Development at Viva Farms says “Latinos have many obstacles towards owning farms. The wages are incredibly low and there is limited support to help new farmers.” A typical farm worker earns on average less than $10,000 a year.
Salvador says “We never thought we would be able to have our own farm.” When he saw a class offered at the Washington State University extension, a partner of Viva Farms, he decided to take it. “It was really exciting!” he recalled.
He dreams of someday owning a tractor, getting more land, and of teaching others to acquire and manage their own farm.
Currently he and Misael have over 20,000 head of lettuce to pick, twice as much as last year and have expanded their business to focus on large restaurants and the Viva Farms CSA. It is all picked by hand, laboriously while bent over in the field. A tractor, he estimates, would alleviate that by about 50%.
At NW Green Farms they grow a large variety produce from lettuce, to onions, squash, cilantro, greens… around 30 in all. It doesn’t just go to local markets but the Morales Brothers also donate some of it to a local church. “Buying local is the better way to go.” he says, “It has more nutrition.”
More information on NW Green Farm Produce can be found on their website: www.nwgreenfarmproduce.com
The Viva Farms Incubator Program was launched in June 2009 to provide new farmers affordable access to education, training and technical assistance; capital and credit; land and markets. In 2011 they took home the top honors at the Social Innovation Fast Pitch competition, winning the Social Venture Partners Award for Social Innovation of $30,000 as well as both Audience Choice awards, for Best Pitch and Most Innovative, of $5,000 each.
Their market sells fresh produce from independent small farmers and is located at the corner of Hwy 20 and Higgins Airport way. Open 7 days a week through around Oct. 1st. For more information visit: http://www.vivafarms.org.