Photo by Sarah Rabkin.
María Luz Reyes and her husband, Florentino Collazo, run La Milpa Organic Farm on land they lease from the Agriculture & Land Based Training Association (ALBA) near Salinas, California. They grow 5.5 acres of mixed vegetable crops that they sell at farmers’ markets in the Salinas, Monterey Bay, and San Francisco Bay areas.
Collazo was born in 1963 in the municipality of Purísima del Rincón, in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. He studied agricultural engineering at the college level in Mexico. Reyes was born in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, in 1965. Due to difficult economic times in Mexico, they decided to immigrate to the United States under the Amnesty Law of 1985. Collazo worked harvesting and packaging lettuce in Yuma, Arizona, and in the Salinas and Imperial Valleys of California. Reyes worked off and on at an asparagus packing facility. Eventually Collazo enrolled in a six-month course at the Agriculture & Land-Based Training Association known as the Programa Educativo para Pequeños Agricultores, or PEPA, in 1995. In 2003, Reyes also enrolled in that program. After graduating, Collazo worked for eight years as the field educator/farm manager for ALBA, and Reyes continued to farm on land she leased from ALBA.
Collazo left ALBA to farm full time with Reyes on ten acres of land they purchased together in southern Monterey County. They have run La Milpa Organic Farm for the past six years and are certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers. The financing to purchase their land in South Monterey County came through the help of an Individual Development Account organized by California FarmLink and a beginning-farmer farm loan through the Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. Reyes and Collazo also continue to farm 5.5 acres of land they rent from ALBA.
On their farm—named La Milpa in tribute to traditional MesoAmerican methods of growing many diverse crops closely together—Reyes and Collazo cultivate over thirty crops, including fifteen varieties of heirloom tomatoes; seven varieties of squash; two varieties of cucumber; two varieties of beets; cilantro; two varieties of onions; rainbow chard; celery; four varieties of chili peppers; fennel; purple cauliflower; broccoli; romaine; strawberries; raspberries; golden berries; green peppers; corn; onions; basil; carrots, and green beans.
Collazo and Reyes have raised three sons; one is studying chemical engineering at UC Santa Cruz and another is studying microbiology at UC Berkeley. They both help with sales at La Milpa. Their youngest son is in fourth grade.
Collazo and Reyes have a deep respect for the land that they farm and take pleasure in the crops that they produce. Collazo said, “I love to work the land. I don’t like using gloves, because . . . it’s like taking a shower with an umbrella, you understand, putting an umbrella over yourself when you wash. When I want to work, I want to feel the earth. When I pull the weeds, I want to feel my fingers penetrating the soil, feel that I’m pulling them up, that I’m doing it myself. My hands and my mind are linked. I really love to look around, walk up and down observing, surveying it all and saying, ‘Wow.’ That’s what fulfills me. When I’m at the farmers’ market, when people are arriving, reaching for the produce, and then later passing by, I feel like my self-esteem really rises. . . . But when you arrive over there and they tell you, ‘These are the best strawberries I’ve ever tasted, I’m going to take them’ — that is, they flatter you, ah, it makes you feel a light in your soul, you know?” Reyes added, “Like yesterday, when they had that festival and all of these people came out to buy, a man said to me, ‘I’ve never touched the sky, but with these strawberries I just did.’ So, how do you think that made me feel?”
This oral history was conducted in Spanish at La Milpa Farm on July 26, 2009, by Rebecca Thistlethwaite. Thistlethwaite, Collazo, and Reyes know each other from Thistlethwaite’s work as program director for the Agriculture & Land-Based Training Association. The interview was transcribed and sent to Collazo and Reyes for their edits and approval. Then it was translated into English. The transcript appears here first in English, and then in the original Spanish.