From Farm Workers To Landowners: New Minnesota Co-op Encouraging More Latino Land Ownership

Carlos Vera, Staff Writer

The state of Minnesota currently has about 69,000 farms; of those, only about 300 are owned by Hispanics. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 Census of Agriculture, the average age of a Minnesota farmer stands at 56.6 years, a trend that is increasing. Soon enough, someone will need to take over those farms.

Ramon Leon, CEO and President of the Latino Economic Development Center in Minneapolis, hopes it will be a Latino. For the past two decades, he has helped Latinos find jobs, provided loans, and helped start businesses. Mr. Leon has been known to help people who were employed as dishwashers to become business owners. However, he has never done much in terms of the agriculture business; success in Latino farm initiatives has eluded him. According to him, there were just too many barriers facing Latinos in terms of owning farmland to ever consider creating an initiative for that.

“Latinos in Minnesota don’t have access to land. We don’t know Latinos that own 100 acres,” Leon said. “Access to capital is an issue, and access to training.”

The new demographic trends in the state have made him reconsider. With an aging population and an increase of Latinos migrating to the state, Mr. Leon saw an opportunity to start a farming co-op. This pilot program named Agua Gorda, a city where many migrant workers come from, is aimed at instructing Latino workers on the Minnesotan way of farming. In addition, the center provides small loans so that participants can start with a small patch a land in a rented field, and hopefully expand their business with the profit made from the produce sold.

“There are a lot of Latino workers in agriculture that aspire to be farm owners if they had a chance,” John Flory of the center told the Star Tribune. “The question is what model can we use to bring them from being low-wage agricultural workers to having an opportunity to be a farm owner.”

Currently participants of the co-op keep their day job while they farm rented fields on the weekends and evening. In the year, each members of the co-op contributed $250, and together took out a $5,400 loan. The group was able to sell $7,000 worth of produce (that includes tomatoes, melons, and peppers), and ultimately was able to expand their land size and had sales of $40,000 last year.

The key to success in this program is not only hard work and dedication, which are two traits many Latino workers are known for, but more importantly, the significance of building relationships and rapport in the local community.

“When you go to communities the people start seeing you there working so hard, and they give you some respect,” Jaime Villalaz, business development specialist for the LEDC, told the Star Tribune. “They start thinking of us as good people.”

Carlos Vera is a Staff Writer at Latino Giant. He is passionate about the intersection between policy, advocacy and community development as it pertains to Latinos in United States. He is a Senior at American University in Washington D.C., where he is focusing his studies on the politics and policy inner workings of immigration and education. Currently, he is Co-Directing a peer mentorship program for multicultural students as a NUFP Fellow at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Previously, he has held internships at the U.S. House of Representatives, the European Parliament in Brussels, and volunteer roles in local, state and national campaigns.

Star Tribune
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