Updated April 2019
Winner of 2017 Faces of Entrepreneurship Award
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.
They moved north to Tracy, California to live with his wife’s family.
Javier spent a long time working in Los Angeles’ food, beverage, and hospitality industry. Now living in the agricultural community, something clicked and he began thinking about farming. He had family roots, as his father and brothers were farmers in Mexico.
Javier decided to get his GED and then, encouraged by a teacher, enrolled in college. He earned two A.S. degrees in horticultural design and organic production.
As a working student and a father with a family to support, things were tight financially. Javier sometimes had to scrape together change to put gas in his car. Eventually, hard work began to pay off again. In 2011, he was able to lease an acre and a half of land.
The journey begins
California FarmLink is an organization dedicated to supporting the kind of small, independent farmers most banks ignore. Through them, Javier 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 has been really good supporters and a key to my success.
The next year, FarmLink gave him another loan and helped him find acreage to grow. This was through their land-linking program which matches small farmers with under-utilized farmland.
Through the Salinas, CA-based Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), Javier was able to enroll in a 10-month course learning marketing, legal and business topics and even etiquette.
ALBA gave me so many tools. Different government agencies would come out and tell us about their programs. All those have become part of my network.
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 he 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. They also help him deal with issues that arise in relation to labor and cash flow.
From an acre and a half to more than 200 acres, JSM Organics has 29 employees. They earn between $12-$18 an hour. In 2017 the company broke $1 million and last year it topped $1.65 million.
He and the farmers who work for him grow a wide variety of organic fruit and produce. They supply 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. I grow food for thousands.
As if that wasn’t enough, Javier 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. Today, each of them employs 10 people.
I want more Javiers to make their dream come true.
Javier also serves on the board of the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency and a U.S. Department of Agriculture advisory committee where he represents the interests of small, independent farmers. And if that wasn’t enough, he also works with EcoFarm. This nonprofit promotes and educates the public on sustainable farming practices.
This year, Javier plans to build a small kitchen on his farm. He wants to use it to feed his workers from the food they grow. And his long-term plan is to set up a trading center in his community. While he obviously loves his work and is passionate about organic farming, Javier admits the hours are long. 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.
Author: Cassandra Stern