During the storms of January, Maria Morales saw her 11-acre farm, as well as her home and equipment, overwhelmed by torrents of water rushing down from the surrounding hills. In some places, floodwaters were four feet deep, ruining not only the fields, where planting was just starting, but also the first floor of her home, sheds, hoop houses, tractors, trucks and sheet rock.
Since January, her family has had no income and Morales estimates the cost of repairing damage to be $40,000. Maria is only one of many Latina and Latino farmers whose operations were brought to a standstill during the winter of 2023.
“I have experienced racism, but we have worked very hard to become contributors to the community and a benefit to the economy … We pay taxes and provide employment and food that is not poisoned. We deserve to be supported too.”
–Adelio C. (during SSRF & CAFF-organized Resiliency Workshop, discussion with representative from U.S. Congressmember Zoe Lofgren’s office)
Since 2021, SSRF has been working with Spanish-speaking operators of small, organic and regenerative farms in Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Santa Clara counties. Many of these farmers are women who have worked their way up from picking in the fields to operating success-ful farms. Most lease their land, and several were in the process of buying their farms when the floods hit. Each farm will require tens of thousands of dollars for repairs and to restart operations. The farmers have had to dip into funds they were saving to purchase their farms, since the in-come on which they were counting has vanished.
Unfortunately, even though emergency declarations have been issued and flood and storm relief funds promised to affected families in the four counties, small farmers are, for the most part, not eligible for assistance. At the same time, much larger corporate agriculture operations, with higher visibility and political influence, will be more likely to get government support to stay in business. Why?
FEMA money and other public sources are provided for day-to-day expenses and residential damages. Community foundations and local governments prioritize food, basic supplies and housing for flood victims and these resources are limited. Businesses, such as farms, must rely on grants and loans from USDA and the Small Business Administration. But these funders have stringent eligibility requirements and complicated, drawn-out application procedures. Farmers must have credit, collateral and sales records. Moreover, it could be months before anyone who does qualify will see any money and, even then, that may not be enough to restore operations.
In collaboration with these farmers and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), SSRF is spearheading an effort to help affected farms get back into operation. We have, so far, provided small amounts of support, drawing on grants received by SSRF, but this is the proverbial “drop in the bucket.” We need DONORS like yourself, farm equipment and matching funds for these farmers and we are reaching out to elected officials, government agencies and community and other foundations to bridge the gap. Can you help?
You can support Latinx farmers engaged in organic and regenerative agriculture in the four counties, as well as SSRF’s programs, by going to our website and clicking on the DONATE BUTTON. (https://sustainablesystemsfoundation.org/donate/). For additional resources and information, please see: https://sustainablesystemsfoundation.org/farmer-emergency-relief-contacts/
Filemon and Rosa Regalado partici-pated in SSRF’s regenerative agriculture workshops during 2021-22. This year, Filemon serves as one of three mentors to about 20 Spanish-speaking farmers, half of whom are women.
In Mexico, Filemon farmed corn and wheat and, in the early 1980s, immigrated to California to give his family a better life. He began as an entry-level farmworker at farms around Salinas.
Within a couple of years, Filemon was promoted to manager and then super-visor. In 1986, he began working at an organic farm in Hollister. Ten years later, he and an associate launched their own 10-acre farm. Filemon and his family have always loved farming and he spends most of his time in the fields.
In 2002, Filemon stopped using pesti-cides and inorganic fertilizers on his farm, which is now certified organic on all 10 acres. Moving forward, Filemon and his wife and business partner Rosa, are looking to expand. Their daughter Yuri and son Andrew help them to manage the farm.
“I wanted to take care of the consumer’s health and farm workers’ health,” Rega-lado says of his move to organic farming. He recalls that when he worked on tradi-tional strawberry farms—which were sprayed with vast amounts of dangerous pesticides—“I had headaches, I had nau-sea, and my eyes were always irritated from the sulfur.”
Before the 2023 storms hit, the Regalado family was growing parsley, dill, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, celery and onions. Wildlife lives on and visits their farm–both beneficial, beautiful species … and pests!
As for making a living at farming, a dream of so many small farmers? Normally, Filemon says: “We do well enough,” although profits from summer harvests mostly go to sustaining farm and family over the winter.
Filemon’s and Rosa’s dream was to buy their land and make sure, eventually, there were homes on the farm for their children.
With the devastating storms of this year, that dream is now much further out of reach. The lease-to-own contract the Regalados signed with their property owner is now threatened, as the family has lost roughly $60,000 in income just this past winter.
Before winter flooding, the Regalados learned about hydroponics at the SSRF Regenerative Agriculture workshops, which they are now experimenting with. They are also practicing principles of soil health and conservation and composting. But like many other Spanish-speaking, small farmers, the Regalados still need help with loan applications, organic and food safety certifications and other paperwork. And, they need a cash infusion to keep their dreams of owning their own farm and land alive.
Too many small farms on the Central California Coast are barely surviving at the edges of the industrial-big ag economy. The 2023 storms and floods have destroyed both farms and visions for a more independent future. SSRF is working to support farmers like Filemon not just to survive, but to thrive and benefit both Earth and their customers.
We are currently helping these farmers in their efforts to organize, and to alert and lobby government officials and the public about their plight–as well as to prepare for a future in which both weather and climate will be unstable and unpredictable. If the farmers in these four counties succeed in their efforts, we hope such initiatives can spread across California.
For more information about this effort and/or if you have ideas about how to help, please contact Ami Chen Mills at 650-424-8984 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit and donate at our website.