Mexican farmer’s co-op expands in Battle Creek
BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) — When Filiberto Villa Gomez was 4 years old he helped his mother sell his father’s produce at the market in Mexico.
Gomez studied agriculture and worked for Mexico’s Department of Agriculture while also working with small-land farmers, women and youth until he moved to the United States. Five years ago, Gomez saw a need for a Mexican Farmer’s cooperative in Michigan.
In the cooperative, each farmer grows fruits and vegetables on separate farms and combine their produce to cater to multiple buyers, big and small, across the state.
The cooperative represents over a dozen farmers, it’s opened a new office in Battle Creek, and is expanding its brand by partnering with local businesses, according to the Battle Creek Enquirer ( http://bcene.ws/1AysLIX ).
As Gomez began working with Mexican farmers, he realized they were struggling because of language barriers. The farmers couldn’t read the legal paperwork and were struggling to comply with laws and were unable to sell their produce to buyers.
With help from Bangor-based, Farmers on the Move, Gomez said the farmers now comply with regulations and are able to make a profit. He says it’s a movement that gave the cooperative their name.
“Together we can provide better training, better knowledge for all of them individually,” Gomez said. “It’s also easier when they have someone who is reading the laws to them and showing them the practical laws and how they apply.”
After five years, Gomez said they are continuing to grow and are diversifying their produce selection.
While blueberries comprise much of the organization’s produce, Gomez said it offers tomatoes, bell peppers, chili peppers, jalapeno peppers and squash.
Most of the farmers are in Van Buren, Buchannan and Allegan counties. The cooperative sells fresh produce to businesses such as the Eastern Market in Detroit, Bronson Battle Creek Hospital, Sprout Urban Farms and many others.
John Fear, director of support services at Bronson Battle Creek, said they have been buying produce from Farmers on the Move for a couple of years. Farmers on the Move is just one of many producers Bronson buys produce from, but Fear said they continue to use the organization because Bronson wants to use local product from local farmers.
Fear said Bronson wants to support Michigan farmers and ranchers, and when he was introduced to Gomez they decided to partner because of their sustainability and healthy food practices. Fear said the organization’s practices give them variety for a big distribution market at a fair price that is more difficult to find elsewhere.
“That helps us a lot because our volume is significant,” Fear said.
As a cooperative, the organization allows the farmers to support larger clients such as Bronson.
Sprout Urban Farms, a nonprofit organization that works toward fair and affordable food for residents, is also a partner of Farmers on the Move.
Jeremy Andrews, self-proclaimed “chief excitement officer” of Sprout, said they partner with Farmers on the Move because their work jibes with Sprout’s mission: providing healthy, affordable food for Michigan residents.
“They’re increasing food sovereignty and our goals,” Andrews said. “People are getting paid fair wages and have ownership of their enterprise.”
Andrews said Gomez is a connector for farmers in the community and is increasing local food purchasers and local enterprise, which he thinks will help the local economy.
Andrews said because they are a Mexican Farmer’s cooperative they bring an added value of diversity to farming in the community.
Although the organization started with Mexican farmers, Gomez said it’s open to anyone.
“Since we started it’s like we’ve been growing in knowledge,” Gomez said. “It was a slow process and now it’s like boom.”
Information from: Battle Creek Enquirer, http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com