Gonzalo Garcia Reyes is a farmer honoring his family’s deep roots in farming and making space for a new, more just future for immigrant farmers in the U.S. He is the founder of Lomita Farm in Gresham, Oregon, in its third year of production. Lomita translates to “little hill,” and the name is Gonzalo’s way of honoring and recognizing a piece of land called “La Loma” (the hill) in Oaxaca, Mexico, where his family has farmed and stewarded the land for generations.
Gonzalo started Lomita after completing an internship with Zenger Farm in Portland, Oregon, where he learned most of what he knows about farming. This is where he saw what community-oriented farming and food accessibility could look like. Gonzalo’s family has a long history of farming and agricultural work — his parents and grandparents were agricultural workers harvesting produce in Chihuahua, Mexico and Baja, California, as well as in the fruit orchards and berry farms in the Pacific Northwest. This family history showed Gonzalo how difficult, dangerous, and exploitative agricultural work can be.
But Lomita is different — here Gonzalo is carving a space where he can reclaim his relationship to agriculture, grow produce on his own terms, and share and celebrate these new possibilities in community with others.
At Lomita, Gonzalo grows culturally-significant foods stemming from where he grew up in Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, like tomatillos, tomatoes, peppers, and mais, as well as herbs native to Mexico, like pitiona (a form of lemon verbena), epazote (an herb native to Mexico and Guatemala often used to flavor beans), and papalo.
“It’s really important to grow and to share culturally specific produce for me because I view it as a way of healing,” Gonzalo shares, “It's healing for me to be able to grow foods that are culturally significant for me, my grandparents and my family. It’s great to be able to grow the things that my family grew and to build that relationship with those plants. It’s also healing for a lot of folks who are also immigrants, who have left Mexico and other places, for me to be able to grow this food and to share it with them, to bring them a little piece of their home and to give them some joy.”
Building Lomita Farm has also been an opportunity for Gonzalo to build community and connect with other farmers, particularly those who are immigrants and people of color. “The people who actually work on farms are very diverse,” Gonzalo explains. “Most farmworkers in the U.S. are Mexican immigrants or other folks from Central America, and a lot of them also are Indigenous folks. But that's not reflected in who owns the farms. It’s frustrating for me to know that the people who are working on farms are people that look like me — immigrant, undocumented, Indigenous. We are the labor behind agriculture and we don't receive recognition for our work. And that's why it's important for me to show more people like me in agriculture and to share my story.”
Gonzalo has seen first-hand the additional challenges and barriers immigrant farmers face. Gonzalo has DACA, which has allowed him to go to college and start his own business, opportunities many immigrants do not have. But even though Gonzalo has a work permit that enables him to work, it is especially difficult for him to access loans and other forms of support that other farmers do. As a teenager working on berry farms, he saw the unjust treatment of migrant farmworkers through difficult living conditions and unfair wages. Many undocumented workers, including Gonzalo, are not eligible for healthcare such as OHP and remain uninsured, even as they do dangerous, hard labor to provide an essential service to our communities.
All of these experiences led Gonzalo to make sure that part of his farming model would support his community. He created a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program in partnership with Familias en Accion to bring culturally-significant foods to 30 families every other week, at no cost to the families. “I want to make sure that the food I grow is accessible to people that look like me, people who otherwise wouldn't have access to nutrient rich and culturally significant foods,” Gonzalo shares. “To do the type of work that I wanted, I knew I couldn't do it on my own. I needed to find people who wanted to support my vision for farming and getting my food out there.”
In the first year of Lomita, Gonzalo built community relationships and relied on community aid to fund his capital needs, raising an incredible $30,000+ to buy a reliable van to get fresh, culturally-relevant food to more families. “It can be very lonely, and it's difficult to do it on your own. So it's nice to know that there are people who have your back and who want to support you, who want to see you thrive. Even though the farming community is smaller, there's not a sense of competition. Even though we're all sort of competing for the same resources, there's still lots of room and there's plenty to go around. It’s nice to know that people want to support each other.”
When Gonzalo first told his family he wanted to start his own farm, they were worried. They knew how straining farming can be, financially and physically. But that’s why Gonzalo continues to pursue this work, to help change the status quo. “I don't think that doing farm labor is bad or inherently bad. What is bad is that we don't value the labor that goes into farming and growing the food that goes to people's tables. It’s important to me, as a farmer, to work towards creating a future in agriculture that is more humane. That recognizes the value of people's labor and pays people for their labor.”
Gonzalo envisions a future of farming that is more just, is more equitable, and is filled with joy. He says: “A future where the people don't experience hunger to me looks like lots of joy and lots of celebration and people coming together to share foods that have meaning to them.”