Farm tour of Vang Farms, photo by Molly Nakahara
On the outskirts of Merced, California, tucked in between acres of feed corn and walnuts, is an oasis of crop diversity, a 15-acre farm growing over 30 crops for local markets. Owner–operator Latsamee “Mee” Moua shares that her business, Vang Farms, is known at the farmers’ market for having unique, often hard-to-find crops beloved by Southeast Asian communities. From okra grown for its tender, edible leaves; to jicama, the nitrogen-fixing legume grown for its crunchy tuber and towering trellises of sem beans, their pungent flowers swarming with beneficial insects; to sugar cane stalks stretching into the sky; Mee’s farm is a culinary and botanical wonderland. At 10a.m. on a recent August morning, a crowd of local farmers and service providers gathered at Vang Farms to explore organic transition and new market opportunities for organic producers in the San Joaquin Valley. Hosted by American Farmland Trust, CCOF Foundation, the USDA Transition to Organic Partnership Program, and Daily Harvest, the “farmer tailgate” event featured a tour of a farm and an organic packinghouse and a conversation with seasoned organic producers from the area.
Mee’s farm was the first stop on the tour, and a perfect start to the day’s conversation. A CCOF Organic Transition Program grant recipient, Mee immigrated from Laos two decades ago and has been farming successfully for the past five years. With a bright smile on her face, Mee picked an oblong, orange melon from her field and passed out slices to eager attendees. “Delicious! What’s the name of this variety?” someone asked. “I don’t know the name here; I brought these seeds from my country!” laughed Mee. She wants to certify organic for her customers and so that she can scale up certain crops and sell her harvest to the small-but-mighty packinghouse that sits adjacent to Mee’s farm fields, Sweet Valley Produce.
Angie Bugarin, who runs Sweet Valley Produce, grew up farming and saw a need for more wholesale market options for small producers like Mee. Angie now prides herself in providing her community with a reliable market, and she has big dreams! Participants at the tailgate toured the current packinghouse, which occupies an old barn on Angie’s family farm, as well as an enormous new warehouse that Sweet Valley will expand into. The business is hoping to certify organic soon, and the local organic farming community is eager to support Angie and Sweet Valley’s success.
The Villanueva family, the powerhouse family team behind Annas Organic Farms, are big supporters of Sweet Valley Produce. Inspired by a love of nature, the Villanuevas have been farming organically for the past decade, and for much of that time, making the four-hour trek multiple times a week to organic wholesalers in the Bay Area. A local, organic packinghouse that could entice the organic supply chain to source from valley growers would help farms like Annas Organic Farms and Vang Farms find success long into the future.
To learn more about the CCOF Foundation’s work, visit ccof.org, or contact Education Manager Molly Nakahara at email@example.com.