Agriculture Land-Based Training Association staff clash with the farmers they train.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Agriculture Land-Based Training Association leaders say they’ve reached out to aspiring farmers and want to better integrate them into the nonprofit’s operation. But tension between staff and farmers remains.
In April the Weekly reported alleged conflicts of interest between ALBA farmers and staff. Additionally, farmers wanted representation on the organization’s board. (See www.montereycountyweekly.com/read/alba)
Since then, ALBA board members interviewed the incubator program’s roughly 30 farmers to hear their views. The board also passed a conflict-of-interest policy that bars staff from having a financial interest in farming operations.
At the same time, however, ALBA suspended a farmers advisory committee and recently stripped land from the farmers’ main organizer, Víctor Almazán.
In an Oct. 21 letter, Executive Director Brett Melone says Almazán failed to participate in organic certification inspections and neglected to document farming inputs (such as seeds or fertilizer). Almazán counters that he has complied with his contract, and says ALBA isn’t renewing his lease as punishment for organizing farmers.
“They want me out absolutely,” Almazán says. “[Melone] doesn’t like the farmers to be united.”
Board President Edward Moncrief says Almazán wasn’t singled out. “We are going to enforce our leases,” he says. “Otherwise, we are not training people at all.”
Melone adds, “[Almazán] does not comply with the contract and we have extensive evidence of that.”
Melone made similar comments in April defending ALBA’s decision to terminate the lease of farmer Irene Zamudio who, ALBA staff said, abandoned several parcels of land and failed to make lease payments, among other things. Ultimately the board started a “cooling off” period, granting Zamudio a three-month extension to bring her lease into full compliance. But by the Weekly’s deadline, Zamudio remained in limbo, waiting to see if she would get land next year. ALBA officials declined to discuss Zamudio’s lease.
Almazán says ALBA hasn’t fully implemented its conflict-of-interest policy. Florentino Collazo, who is married to farmer Maria Luz Reyes, and Hector Mora, who also farms, are still in management positions. ALBA officials say Collazo and Mora will resign by the end of the year.
But some farmers question whether ALBA Organics Manager Tony Serrano, who is the brother of farmer Francisco Serrano, is violating the policy by showing favoritism to his sibling.
While farmers contend it has taken too long for resolution, ALBA officials say they are recruiting farmers to sit on the board, and they also plan to reinitiate the farmers committee in coming months.
Moncrief says the seven-year-old educational organization is continuing to grow and work through issues that arise. “These are not issues of anything other than people trying to work together as an organization,” he says.