Author: Cassandra Stern
Javier Zamora, 51, moved to the Los Angeles area from Michoacán, Mexico when he was 20. He worked hard and did well, eventually building his very own American dream – he had a good job as a regional director for a golf management company, a wonderful wife, two daughters and a home. Life was good.
Then came the 2005 financial crisis.
“We lost our home and investments. We had nothing,” said Zamora. They moved north to Tracy, California to live with his wife’s family.
Living in the agricultural community after so long working in Los Angeles’ food, beverage and hospitality industry, something clicked and Zamora began thinking about farming. He had family roots, as his father and brothers were farmers in Mexico.
He decided to get his GED and then, encouraged by a teacher, enrolled in college, earning two A.S. degrees in horticultural design and organic production.
As a working student and a father with a family to support, things were so tight financially that Zamora sometimes had to scrape together change to put gas in his car. Eventually, hard work began to pay off again and in 2011 he was able to lease an acre and a half of land.
Through California FarmLink, an organization dedicated to supporting the kind of small, independent farmers most banks ignore, Zamora was able to get a $5,000 loan, just enough to get his farm started. JSM Organics did well that year, bringing in $46,000 from his organic strawberries and fresh flowers.
“FarmLink staff have been really good supporters and key to my success,” said Zamora. The next year a FarmLink gave him another loan and helped him find acreage to grow through their land-linking program which matches small farmers with under-utilized farm land.
Through the Salinas, CA-based Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), Zamora was able to enroll in a 10-month course learning marketing, legal and business topics and even etiquette.
In 2016, Javier joined Kitchen Table Advisors’ program. (Kitchen Table Advisors is the third CAMEO member with whom Javier worked and the nominating organization.) He was farming on nearly 20 acres of land and managing multiple markets and wholesale accounts across the Bay Area, but needed support to make the business sustainable and grow. Kitchen Table Advisors’ Business Advisor, David Mancera, worked closely with Javier to organize his financials and hire a bookkeeper. With the farm’s finances in order, Kitchen Table Advisors worked closely with Javier and partners at California FarmLink, RSF Social Finance and ALBA to purchase a 200 acre ranch. Kitchen Table Advisors continues to support Javier to meet the requirements of his loans and to deal with issues that arise in relation to labor and cash flow.
From an acre and a half to 200 acres, JSM Organics, has 26 employees, who earn between $12-$18 an hour. Last year it broke $1 million and this year he hopes to top $1.5 million.
He and the farmers who work for him grow a wide variety of organic fruit and produce supplying local markets, independent grocers and restaurants seeking high quality organic produce.
“People that take the time to come to our farm care about where their food comes from and who grows it,” said Zamora. “I grow food for thousands.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Zamora felt the need to give back. He serves on the board for both FarmLink and ALBA, encouraging and mentoring other small farmers. He helped and encouraged two former employees to strike out on their own and today each of them employs 10 people. “I want more Javiers to make their dream come true,” he says.
Zamora also serves on the board of the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency and an U.S. Department of Agriculture advisory committee where he represents the interests of small, independent farmers.
While he obviously loves his work and is passionate about organic farming, Zamora admits the hours are long and he’d like to slow down eventually. Still, he says, it would be nice to keep the business in the family.
“Maybe in 10 years one of my daughters can handle the whole operation.”