Meet a Farmer: Javier Zamora of JSM Organics
Meet Javier Zamora, Owner of JSM Organic Farms in Royal Oaks, California. As a second-generation farmer, he grew up helping his dad farm in Mexico and cultivated his own piece of land in middle school to learn about the importance of agriculture.
Learn more about Javier, the many ways he gives back to the community and helps other farmers like himself, and why he’s so passionate about farming!
CA GROWN: Tell me about the history of the company and what your role is.
Javier: My company is JSM Organics, I’m a small organic-certified producer here in Royal Oaks. This is my fifth year in business and we produce certified organic strawberries, vegetables and flowers. I started in 2012 with no employees and no money. Today, I have 26 employees and I still don’t have a lot of money, but I’m paying my bills and living a good life. I was seven years old when I started growing carrots and radishes. My father was a farmer in Mexico, so I farmed with him until I came to the U.S. when I was 20. Then I didn’t do any farming for the next 18 years until 2009 when the housing crisis happened. We came up north, I decided to finish my GED and my teacher told me I should go to college, so I did at the age of 43. I went to San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton and majored in landscape design. Then I came to UC Santa Cruz and majored in organic production, so I have two AS degrees. In a few years, I’d like to go back and get my Bachelor’s degree but so far I’m happy with what I have.
CA GROWN: What does a typical day look like for you?
Javier: It starts really early, sometimes around 3:30 a.m. For the most part, I’m up around 5 a.m. and I usually come out to the office to make sure my employees take the right amount of berries they need for the retail stores and restaurants, all the billing was properly done, etc. Then my foreman will come in and we’ll chat about what needs to be done for the day. Then most of the workers will start coming in around 6:30 a.m. and start doing their daily tasks. From there, usually the phone starts ringing so I’ll talk to my customers and see what they want. Sometimes we’ll have visitors or I’ll have to run errands to the bank, so it gets pretty busy. That’s just how the day goes and sometimes it doesn’t end until 9 p.m. On Sundays, I go out to the Farmer’s Market in San Francisco with my daughter and I sell my strawberries and flowers. I’m always busy, but I love it and I enjoy what I do. When I come back on Sundays after the Farmer’s Market, I go out and walk the fields to make sure there aren’t any diseases going around and that things are taken care of.
CA GROWN: What drew you into the farming profession?
Javier: I started farming when I was young and I actually went to a middle school in Michoacán, Mexico that had land and we had a co-op where the students that wanted to do ag could have a piece of land to grow on. We had about five acres where we planted corn, soy beans, squash, garbanzo beans and more. When I came to Southern California, I got into the restaurant industry where I did really well but it wasn’t really my thing. It wasn’t until the housing crisis hit and we got ourselves in a pickle that it was time for a change. It was tough for awhile, but it turned out to be a good thing because if I didn’t have that struggle, I would have never gone back to school and done what I really wanted to do: farming. I started this business from scratch with no credit and no money, so it wasn’t easy. The first three years were really tough, but I wouldn’t change what I do for anything else because I love producing good food and walking the fields to see all our hard work. It’s a beautiful thing and I’m a very blessed individual. I have a beautiful wife and two kids in college and a dog named Louie.
CA GROWN: What are some ways your company gives back to the community?
Javier: I’m proud to say I help provide for about 14 different families now and I help make food accessible to the local community. Honestly, without my employees I’m nothing. They’re the ones who make this happen every day, so I want to make sure they’re happy and they take ownership of what they do. One thing I’m very proud of is the fact that customers from all walks of life can come to the farm. They can experience the harvesting of the strawberries or cutting their own flowers. I also donate to food banks and if a customer comes to the farm and isn’t able to pay for everything, we’ll give it to them. I serve on different boards and non-profits that provide help to other farmers in the community to make it easier for them to succeed. The Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association in Salinas teaches farmers how to grow organically and they subsidize land for them so they can start their own farming operation. I actually went through that program in 2011 and now I sit on the board for them. I’m also on the board for the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency and they manage the aquifers here in Watsonville. I sit on a few other boards and I currently mentor maybe seven different farmers to help them establish their farming business. If there’s anything I can do to make people’s lives and businesses easier, I’ll do it. I don’t want to drive a luxury car or make a ton of money because that’s just material stuff that will stay here long after I’m gone, so I’d rather make a difference in people’s lives.
CA GROWN: What are your hobbies or pastimes when you’re not farming?
Javier: My family and I usually go out and travel to other areas and states. Sometimes we’ll go to Mexico or the Los Angeles area where my siblings live. I also like to go to a lot of workshops and educational stuff because when we’re not farming in December, January and part of February, there are a lot of conferences going on. I also love going out with my family to different restaurants and trying different types of food.
CA GROWN: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Javier: We plant thousands of strawberry plants in November and they’ll come in around March, so we have hundreds of boxes going out. It’s so rewarding to see customers at the Farmer’s Market or at one of my retail stores enjoying those strawberries. Seeing the kids and moms and dads enjoy any of my fruits is exciting. It reminds me of when I used to wait for my dad to get out of work in the fields and he’d bring the beautiful cantaloupes and other fruits that always tasted so good. Another rewarding thing is seeing my employees achieve a lot of things that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to. I have a few people who’ve built their own homes in Mexico, have their own orchards or lemon trees and do really well for themselves. Their lives have been changed for the better because of what we do and that’s a great feeling.
CA GROWN: What has contributed to your past success and what are you doing to ensure success going forward?
Javier: Educating customers about what we do and where their food comes from has made a huge difference for my business. People got on board and they want to know what they’re eating now, who’s growing their food and where it’s coming from. There are a lot of challenges out there and we have to be careful with food safety regulations, but if we have a positive mentality and do good, we’ll be ok.
CA GROWN: As a California farmer, we know that you have a long list of activities you undertake on your farm to care for the land and its resources. What are one or two ways that you’re most proud of or you feel are innovative ways you care for your land?
Javier: I do a lot of different things, but one of the most important things is rotating the land and the families of crops. It cuts back on the fungi and soil-born diseases that the crops can host. I also do cover crops and every year, my farmland must have at least 30 percent cover crops. Depending on what type of soil I have or what I’ve done in the past, it’s a mixture of legumes like lima beans, peas, etc. that will provide a lot of nitrogen during the growing season for the vegetables. Or if there’s a very sandy field, it will need a lot of organic matter so we’ll do a lot of grasses like barley, oats, etc. Then some other fields are really good, so we’ll do a mixture of both grasses and legumes.
CA GROWN: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a farmer?
Javier: You must be disciplined, be passionate about what you’re doing and have the patience for it. You don’t have to be super smart to do this job, but you absolutely have to be disciplined. I like to get up early, work hard all day and I achieve what I want to achieve. It’s that simple.