For the last 15 years, Santiago Contreras has been a vegetarian—conscious of healthy eating and healthy food. After many years working in the restaurant industry, he made the leap to learn to become a farmer by enrolling in the Farmer Education Course (PEPA) at the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) to develop his knowledge and skills to work the land. After a year of classroom learning and hand-on training, Contreras is now a full-time farmer cultivating many different vegetables, such as squash, beans, tomatoes, onions, and melons, on five rented acres in Hollister. Seeing the clear connection between people’s health and agricultural growing practices, Contreras is fully committed to growing organically: “In reality, I started all this ... for my health and for the health of the people who want this product."1
Contreras hopes to create a farm in which everything works together and where the healthy treatment of the land is evidenced in the quality of the produce. “I know what we are doing here is 100 percent natural, organic; it does not have anything … that could contaminate the body ... because one knows that conventional has many insecticides, pesticides, toxins and … this is consumed [by the eater]."2 Growing without synthetic chemicals allows every being—even gophers—a chance to live within the farm’s ecosystem. Contreras respects these creatures and believes they “also have the right to eat.”3 Contreras understands the interconnectedness and impact of his farming practices and that what he puts in the soil affects animals above and below ground, the roots, the microbiome, the plants, and the people who consume his produce.
For Contreras, living a healthy life begins with natural food produced on organic farms. "This makes one think that it is good that someone is growing organic and is not eating toxins. … That is why I am in love with what we are doing; because everything we do is natural."4 Contreras’ studies may have given him the tools to farm organically, but his passion and commitment to healthful produce have transformed him into an organic farmer and advocate.
Last year was the first time that the CCOF Foundation supported Contreras’ career in organic agriculture. Contreras plans to continue growing organically on his farm, M.R. Organics, and hopes to expand his infrastructure and acreage in upcoming years. The CCOF Foundation congratulates and wishes the best to Santiago Contreras for the upcoming harvest in 2021!
Applications for CCOF’s Future Organic Farmers grants are open now and close on May 14. Find out more and apply at the Future Organic Farmers website now!
All quotes translated from Spanish to English and edited for clarity.
1 “En realidad yo comencé todo esto … por mi salud y por la salud de la gente que quiere este producto”.
2 “Yo sé lo que estamos haciendo aquí es cien porciento natural, orgánico, no tiene ningún, nada. Nada que pudiese contaminar al cuerpo … porque uno prende que todo lo convencional es con muchas insecticidas, pesticidas, venenos y tantas cosas y todo esto lo consume uno … ."
3 “Los topos son animales naturales, y tienen derecho a comer.”
4 “Entonces esto hace uno pensar, de que bueno, que es uno quien está cultivando orgánico y no está comiendo algo de veneno. … Por eso estoy enamorada de lo que estamos haciendo nosotros porque todo lo que hacemos nosotros es al natural.”