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PROFILE: Nelida Martinez & Lisette Flores, Owners, Pure Nelida

Jan 7th, 2012 | Category: Community, Farms

by Marnie Jones

It takes care, knowledge, and attention to detail to grow Oaxacan crops in the rainy Northwest, but Nelida Martinez lacks none of these things. Pure Nelida Farm, which she runs with the help of her daughter Lizette Flores, produces Northwest herbs and garden vegetables as well as distinctive greenhouse produce typically associated with the Southwestern Mexican state and its indigenous cultures.

Nelida Martinez at the Viva farmstand. PHOTO BY AMANDA WILSON

Asked about growing Mexican crops in Washington soil, Martinez admits to some challenges. “It’s difficult, because you have to pay extra attention to temperature. It’s hard if I start late, and if I have colder weather it’s not going to grow well.” She continues, through the Spanish-to-English translation of her daughter, by explaining that  many of their crops are grown in greenhouses.

Martinez, who was born into a subsistence farming community in Oaxaca, migrated to California at 16 and spent the first decades of her adult life working in conventional agriculture. Throughout her years as a farm worker, first in California and then in the Skagit Valley, she tended her own gardens however she could, planting Oaxacan seeds in tiny doorstep gardens or windowsills.

A lifelong habit of growing traditional foods gave Martinez a strong foundation in horticulture, but it was not until her son—one of six children—fell ill that Martinez decided she must escape the exposure to agricultural pollutants that went hand-in-hand with conventional farm work. She cared for her son during his treatment for late-stage leukemia, quitting her work in commercial fields to see his treatment through to remission. She ramped up her gardening, adopting a plot in her housing complex’s community garden and growing more and more of her own family’s diet.

“A friend in charge of the garden recommended me to someone who was leasing an acre,” she says as her daughter Lizette translates. “That person connected me to Sarita who got me involved in taking classes.” These classes—bilinugal courses on sustainable small farming and ranching, offered by the Washington State University Skagit Extension in cooperation with GrowFood.org—helped Nelida qualify to sublease an acre of land at the incubator facility Viva Farms. Sarita Schaffer, director of WSU’s Latino Farming Program and the Latin America Program of GrowFood.org, helped Martinez turn Pure Nelida from a backyard enterprise to a thriving business.

Viva Farms, where Pure Nelida is growing into a thriving small business, is a place for new sustainable farms to grow from infancy to independence. It serves as a stepping-stone to land ownership, providing education, training, infrastructure, equipment, and space to qualified farmers.

The Viva farmstand is just one of several outlets for Pure Nelida produce. Chard, lettuce, salad mix, and uncommon vegetable varieties such as purple cauliflower and rainbow carrots are big sellers for the mother/daughter team, and their tomatoes (roma, beefsteak, cherry—you name it) are always a hit. Selling through farmers’ markets and to restaurants, schools, and hospitals has allowed Martinez and Flores to solidify some of their goals for the future of their business. “One of my goals when I grow more,” Martinez explains, “is to help organizations that help kids. To provide produce to others with health issues or to families who have been through [the illness of a child].”

As for Flores, her involvement in Pure Nelida grew from a desire to help her mom to a passion in its own right. “I was watching [my mom] work so hard,” Flores explains, “and I wanted to help. I started going with her, and little by little she taught me how to grow plants. I started liking them, and now it’s something that I love doing.” Asked if she intends to stay in the business as it grows at Viva Farms and beyond, she laughs. “Oh, yes! This is something we both work on very hard. We’re going to be involved for a long time.”

For more information, visit www.vivafarms.org/p/our-farmers.html.

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