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Once in US illegally, Pajaro Valley organic farm owner pays it forward

Submitted by FoodDemocracyNo... on April 18, 2017 - 2:20pm

Originally published: Santa Cruz Sentinel 

 

If President Donald Trump fulfills his pledge to deport millions of workers in the country illegally and build a wall at the Mexican border, prepare to pay a lot more money for far less food.

 

“That’s reality,” said organic farm owner Javier Zamora. “My farm and many others would go out of business. At the very least we would have to scale back to feed just our families and immediate communities.”

 

As owner of JSM Organics in the North Monterey County community of Royal Oaks and a former undocumented worker, the 51-year-old Zamora has a unique perspective on the situation.

 

In 1986, Zamora immigrated to Los Angeles from Michoacán, Mexico, at the age of 20. His timing was good. That same year, President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act into law, which granted Zamora and 2.7 million other workers legal status.

 

Although he was the son of a successful farmer and lived in a community where farming was taught to children in the schools, Zamora spent the next two decades working in the L.A. restaurant and nightclub world.

 

“I worked in a nightclub that booked national touring acts — Ray Charles, Michael McDonald, Etta James, Peter Frampton — every night it was a different crowd with different tastes,” Zamora said. “That where I learned American culture.”

 

When the U.S. housing bubble burst, signaling the beginning of the Great Recession, Zamora and his wife and two daughters moved north to Stockton. At the age of 43, Zamora went back to school. He earned his GED diploma and then a degree in landscape design from San Joaquin Delta College.

 

“I had a teacher who said, ‘Come on, you’re smarter than this,’” said Zamora.

 

Figuring his teacher was probably right, Zamora enrolled in Cabrillo College and earned an associate of science degree in horticulture production. While at Cabrillo, he discovered ALBA, the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association.

 

Over 11 months in 2011, ALBA taught Zamora the skills he needed to establish and grow JSM Organics. The company’s initials stand for Javier Sanchez Medina, his first name combined with his mother’s middle and last name. When he graduated, he bought 1.5 acres of land with an ALBA-subsidized lease and planted his first crop.

 

Today, Zamora owns more than 200 acres and leases another 55 acres. At present, he has roughly 80 acres planted — mostly strawberries, but also raspberries, blackberries, various vegetables and flowers.

 

To farm those acres, he employs 20 workers and will be hiring 15 more at harvest. Depending on how long they’ve worked for him, Zamora pays his employees from $12 to $18.

 

“The reason I’ve grown so much in five years is that my customers know how well my employees are treated and how well the land is treated,” Zamora said. “I have an open door policy. Everyone is welcome to come out to the farm and take a look.”

 

While Zamora will not disclose how many of his workers are in the U.S. illegally, he said many Americans’ preconceptions about those workers are detached from reality.

 

“These are not people who possess a sense of entitlement. They want a place to work, live and provide for their families. They’re not here to take anything away from anyone else,” said Zamora. “The reality is we’re not going to get other people to come out and do this work.”

 

In addition, Zamora said he pays his workforce with company checks — checks from which federal and state payroll taxes are deducted.

“These guys never file taxes so they don’t claim any of that money back. Plus, they can’t receive unemployment,” said Zamora.

 

But the real point, Zamora said, is the amount of work those in the U.S. illegally perform to feed America every day.

 

“It’s incredible the work they do,” said Zamora. “For those who believe kicking these people out is a good idea, I invite you to do your due diligence and see the economic reality of the situation.”

 

Zamora knows his own story would be radically different if not for the amnesty provided by Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act 30 years ago. That’s why he is an outspoken opponent of Trump’s rhetoric. He has also sought congressional support for minority farmers in Washington, D.C.

 

In addition, Zamora serves on numerous boards, including ALBA, the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency and the Ecological Farming Association; as well as the USDA’s Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers.

 

“You help others to succeed because you’ve been given that opportunity,” said Zamora. “That’s the real American way, man.”

 

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