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FARM WORKERS TRANSITION FROM EMPLOYEE TO EMPLOYER (Entrenamiento en Manejo de Riesgos Ayuda a Latinos Cambiar de Ser Trabajadores de Campos a Dueños de Ranchos)

Oct 4, 1999 - The Rural Development Center (RDC), a project of the Association for Community-Based Education in Salinas, California, has been helping Latino farm workers become self-supporting farmers since 1984--following the donation of 112 acres of land to the Association for Community-Based Education.

The Center's Small Farm Education project has a 6-month classroom training program that is open to the whole family. The Risk Management Agency has a big stake in the success of this program and the outreach activities of the Center. Bill Murphy, Director of the Sacramento Regional Service Office, said, "The risk management training we provide, in Spanish, helps participants improve their decision-making skills."

Participants get a chance to practice their new skills before they're on their own. They enter a three-year apprentice relationship with the Center renting a half acre the first year that progresses to five acres the last year. Graduates and practicing farmers of the Latino community also have access to outreach training and technical advice from the Center.

Families have a financial as well as educational investment in their success. Through the Center they are able to obtain a line of credit and get technical assistance. The first year they pay $150 per acre for rent, and as they take on more land and become more adept with cultivating their crops, the rent rises to $350 per acre per year, still at a rate less than half of what is available commercially. The goal is to train the farmers to manage their farms as businesses.

RDC farmers reduce their crop management and financial risks by planting between 5 and 15 varieties of various vegetables, mostly with niche markets. Throughout the whole RDC farm, between 30 and 45 different crops are grown throughout the year, of which 95 percent are organic vegetables and berries. Organic foods are a higher-value product with an expanding market for program participants. Farming organically also allows the whole family to participate in farming without fear of pesticide exposure.

Luis Sierra, Marketing Education Program Coordinator for the Center, is enthusiastic about the RMA contribution to the success of the program. "The RMA trainers incorporate risk management education into a small-farm production and management curriculum. Because marketing and managing risk are as important as growing a crop, the training is critical to our farmers' prospects for success." The Center offers evening workshops and weekend classes in Spanish. Sierra continues, "We have 34 families participating in the program now, and have averaged 10 graduates a year since its inception."