Green Acres

Bertha Magaña holds a bunch of kale she grew at her farm in Royal Oaks. She sells direct to consumers in a unique program with the nonprofit Tera Farm.

While the pandemic has many local businesses struggling to survive, the sales of a small farmer from Watsonville have flourished.

Magaña Farm, a family-run business, is selling more organic produce during stay-at-home orders, a fact owner Bertha Magaña attributes to marketing her produce online and delivering direct to consumers.

The 59-year-old Magaña has worked in agriculture since she came to the United States from Mexico 45 years ago. After working in the fields and at nurseries as a farmworker, she decided to start her own business.

“It’s beautiful,” Magaña says in Spanish, “to see the plants grow.”

For nine years, she has rented nine acres for her Magaña Farm, located in Royal Oaks in North County.

“Sometimes we work more when we have our own business than when we work for somebody else,” Magaña says, adding she values the independence of working for herself.

Work for Magaña and her husband, Heriberto, starts at 7:30am most days. The couple, assisted by their son and three daughters on weekends and by one or more hired workers during the week, plant, harvest, pack and do home deliveries to customers in Silicon Valley and around Monterey County.

Magaña’s farm is a multi-crop operation, in which different types of crops are planted every few furrows. They grow seasonal fruit and vegetables; right now, that means cold-weather crops that include different types of kale, chard and cauliflower. During the summer, they plant peas, green beans and cilantro, among other items.

Magaña doesn’t speak English and only studied through elementary school, but it didn’t stop her from starting her own business. Her brother, Francisco Serrano, motivated her to start her own farm, and she trained at ALBAa nonprofit organic farming training center in Salinas.

Magaña Farm sometimes sells products directly at the farm, but most of the produce is sold via the website of Tera Farm, a nonprofit that supports small farmers and connects them directly to local consumers, at no cost.

“This program is helping us a lot,” Magaña says. she and another farmer are selling customized boxes of produce through the Tera website.

Unlike a CSA box, each customer can select what they want and how much. The list of fruits and vegetables changes every week, depending on availability. The list of what’s available updates every week; the online store opens at 5pm Monday and closes at 9pm Wednesday.

After the orders are placed, they harvest the produce on Thursdays and Fridays, and pack it in boxes. On Saturday, Magaña’s daughter Amalia delivers the boxes to hosts, people who register with Tera Farm to become a distribution hub in their neighborhoods – it might be a driveway or front stoop pickup spot, with boxes labeled and stacked.

Before, the farm worked with brokers and paid 15-percent commission. They sold 30 to 40 boxes per week. Now, since they began selling directly to customers and are in charge of delivery, their weekly profit has increased 30 percent.

Magaña Farm has benefited from consumer demand as people are avoiding stores and instead buying online to minimize potential Covid exposure.

But it’s also because of quality and, importantly, variety. Before she got involved with Tera, Magaña says her crops were less diversified. “Now with this project, I’m getting motivated and we are planting different things,” she says. She’s now growing cauliflower, squash varieties, tomatoes and herbs like dill, oregano and peppermint.

Magaña says small farms face the same challenges as larger farms: lack of available workers. Sometimes it means she turns to other farmers for help. “We help each other, whether we need a product, or if we need workers,” she says.

Magaña hopes when the pandemic ends, customers continue liking and buying her produce. Her wish? “That our sales keep increasing to move forward.”

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