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Farmers: Claudio Gonzalez
Location: Goshen, New York
Native Country: Mexico
Acres farmed: 20
Years with NFDP: 6
Products: Vegetables, Mexican specialties, small fruit, herbs & cut flowers
"The best part about being a farmer is knowing that what you're growing is an essential part of what people consume that you are feeding communities of people."
Interview with Claudio Gonzalez, July 2011, by Susanne Stover
What did you do before you became a farmer? I worked on another farm.
What was your motivation for becoming a farmer in the United States? I worked for them, and when they gave me a little piece of land, I planted it. The vegetables in the garden on the land they gave me produced so much, I didn't have enough places to sell them, so I started a small market. I started renting land from them, became independent and began to produce.
In what way has your previous experience helped you in agriculture? I grew up on a farm, so I've known how to farm since I was young. After growing up, I passed through a phase when I was doing what I didn't want to be doing, but then I started working for [the other farm] and like it. Having worked with her gave me the ability to be able to develop my own independent business through other avenues.
If you could go back and do over that first year of being an NFDP farmer, what would you change, or what do you do differently? I would change a lot of things. I've learned a lot since then. One of the main things is crop rotation and how seeds grow differently in different places. That would have made things a little easier and maybe even a little better. But you know, you have to learn.
Which benefit from being part of NFDP would you say has been the most important for you? One of the most important things about the project is the training, but the loans are important too, because when you start, you don't have the money for a lot of things.
Where do you sell your products? For Greenmarket, Fridays we're in Parkchester, Saturdays we're in Atlas Park, Sunnyside and Socrates, Sundays we're at 92nd St. and Columbia, and we also sell through the La Familia Verde market and CSA, as well as Project Harmony and New Song CSAs.
Who helps you on the farm? There are four of us, and we all maintain the plants, harvest, and take the vegetables to market.
How would you describe your production practices? I don't use fertilizers. Fertilizers are only good for when you want really rapid growth. But plants obviously need a certain time for growth and maturation, and they're going to take the normal time to grow. The only thing you need is crop rotation of crop varieties.
Do you have plans to expand your business? Yes, I have plans. I'm trying to make my business more stable so I can maintain it throughout the year.
Whats the best part of being a farmer, in your experience? The best part about being a farmer is knowing that what you're growing is an essential part of what people consume; that you are feeding communities of people. Also, I don't have to depend upon another company for my salary, and at the same time I'm creating jobs for people, and providing food in some way for people who are otherwise isolated from fresh food.
What do you consider the greatest challenge or obstacle in agriculture? Understanding the weather, because working with the weather is one of the greatest challenges there is. You have to keep in mind that there will be good seasons, but there will also be losses. It's not for certain but it could happen. Understanding the possibility of loss is one of the greatest challenges there is in agriculture.
What keeps your customers coming back to your market stand? They come back because they know there's a difference between my product and the supermarket's product. They come back for the excellent flavor, which is what makes the experience wherever you go; the taste lets you know what you've bought.
What about your farm are you most proud of? Of the work we do and all I've done, of the people who know me, of all my customers who have become regulars and who come to market over and over each time we're there.
What is the most important lesson you have learned as a farmer? That you always have to calculate risk: too much rain, droughts, hail -- the weather always hands us risks. Obviously, I take that risk into consideration when I plant.
What advice would you give to a new farmer? That they work with a more experienced farmer for at least a good amount of time, so they can learn and understand what day-to-day life on a farm is like.
What will your farm be like in ten years? I hope it will be better established, that I'm not working so much, and that my children or someone else is in charge.
What will be your next big investment in your farm? To buy land and build greenhouses on it.