Rafael Francisco is bringing fava beans to market, with help from Adelante Agricultura

To tell the story of his garden, Rafael Francisco begins by introducing the characters in his plot — cucumbers, onions, corn, fava beans and chilacayote. He moves from plant to plant, leaning down to show the progress of the fruit he works hard to nurture.

Growing food is a way of life for Francisco, from the farm of his childhood in Guatemala to this small piece of land south of Gaston. Thanks to the support of an Adelante Mujeres’ program, AdelanteAgricultura, Francisco has been able to continue to grow food and gain knowledge of farming. He now uses organic growing practices to produce the food he grows for family, friends and customers.

Francisco is the oldest of eight children. His parents worked as farmers in Guatemala growing products like coffee, peaches, plátanos and squash.

When he was 14 Francisco left his parent’s home to work in the United States. “We were poor,” he said.

Twenty-four years later, Francisco is the father of three and an employee at a local nursery. Though he spends 40 to 50 hours per week at his day job, he still makes time for about six to eight hours a week at his garden.

“I like to sell (food),” he said. “And not buy it.” He also likes to eat it, he adds, and he likes to help his wife Juana cook it.

It’s important to us to eat food that is free of chemicals, Francisco said.

Francisco was not familiar with organic growing practices before he began working with AdelanteAgricultura, said Alejandro Tecum, the program's director. Francisco was invited by a friend to Adelante Agricultura’s sustainable agriculture course in 2005.

Adelante Agricultura’s 12-week sustainable farming class, taught in Spanish, covers topics like organic farming techniques, building soil, crop planning, pest management and more. The course also includes practical workshops at La Esperanza Farm.

La Esperanza Farm is a 12-acre certified organic farm located in Forest Grove and operated byAdelante Agricultura. Some graduates of the sustainable farming class choose to become members of the La Esperanza Farm and pursue a business venture in agriculture. Farmers produce on a quarter-acre plot of land and receive technical assistance and marketing support from Adelante Agricultura staff. Individual families sell to outlets like local farmers markets and work collectively to sell their produce to larger-scale operations through La Esperanza Distributor, an Adelante Mujeres program that connects growers with distribution experts.

After graduating from the Adelante Agricultura course, Francisco and his wife started growing at “B Street Farm,” land that was managed by Metro, Adelante Mujeres and Pacific University.

“They were still hesitant about the methods they had learned in the class, but they were interested in the prospect of selling their produce at the Forest Grove Farmers Market,” Tecum said.

The second market day of the season, Francisco brought 35 pounds of fava beans and sold out in less than two hours. “This unexpected surprise motivated him and his wife to dedicate more time to working their plot. In the next couple of weeks the improvements in their space was evident. They began asking questions about organic growing techniques,” Tecum said. 

The following season Juana and Rafael grew more vegetables for the market, but fava beans remained their specialty. They also started raising chickens and some rabbits. They brought in horse manure from a local stable where no chemicals are used.

In their third year with Adelante Agricultura, Rafael and Juana wanted to expand their business so they began renting the space south of Gaston.  The business has been slow to expand and Tecum explains that it is because for small-scale producers, it’s hard to compete in the market. 

In growing his own produce, however, Francisco continues a tradition of his family of his native Guatemala. More and more people eat food that is grown close to home and chemical free, said Tecum, also from Guatemala. “Besides buying local produce," he said. "people are becoming interested in growing their own food.”

This is the third article in a 10-part series leading up to the tenth anniversary of Adelante Mujeres.

Founded in 2002, the local non-profit organization fosters the empowerment of low-income Latina women and their families by providing them the tools to achieve self-determination in the areas of education and enterprise. The tenth anniversary celebration, “A Decade of Success,” will be held in conjunction with the Forest Grove Farmers Market on Sept. 12, 2012. The News-Times is proud to be a sponsor of this event.

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