Farming has for millennia been a tradition-based enterprise, where sowing and reaping was all about getting product to market and on the family table. But at Solidarity Farm in Pauma Valley, an ever-evolving business model incorporates a variety of outreach programs designed to solidify the bond between local agriculture and the community at large.
A worker-owned cooperative
From the get-go, Solidarity Farm has practiced “ethical farming” which, according to co-owner Ellee Igoe, seeks to balance the needs of humans, animals, plants, and nature in a way that honors each part of the interconnected agro-system.
“Far too many farms exploit the labor of immigrant workers,” Igoe points out. As part of its vision, Solidarity Farm became a worker-owned cooperative in 2012.
Today it operates a diversified fruit and vegetable farm (over 70 varieties) and sells its produce through CSAs, local retailers, restaurants, and an on-site farm stand.
“We have been operating commercially since 2015 and sustain ourselves, albeit modestly, entirely from our farm income,” adds husband and co-owner Nan (Hernan) Cavazos, a native of Mazatlán, Mexico, where he once played professional basketball. “We have strong customer loyalty and an astounding number of opportunities to expand.”
In 2015, Solidarity Farm received a Kiva-funded loan that helped bring a starter group of 300 new laying hens to the farm, which has since grown in number to over 400. “We were also able to purchase a moveable electric fence to protect our ladies from hungry coyotes and to build their mobile chicken coop,” Igoe recalls. “Today, customers are nuts over our eggs! Because eggs from pastured hens not only taste and look better, buyers can feel good that the hens are living outdoors, eating grass and bugs. They are part of our crew for sure, as they move through the fields, adding their fertilizer.” According to Igoe, while exceedingly tasty and popular throughout the year, Solidarity Farm eggs are “especially good in the winter when there is lots of green stuff for them to eat.”
The farm school
A mother of three whose children attend a charter school in Bonsall, Igoe was more than open to suggestions from other parents that Solidarity Farm might collaborate with the school in developing an agriculture education program, with the school providing the site and Solidarity Farm providing the platform. One fortuitous result of this collaboration was the addition of Kahili Young, a teacher and eco-art-activist, to the farm school team.
Although she has no real farming experience per se, Young explains: “The natural world has been my greatest teacher and provides food for body and soul. On my outdoor adventures of play, wildcrafting, and organic gardening I’ve found appreciation, healing, and expanded perception.” Adds Igoe, “We both love sharing the magic of our farm with young people and families!” An experienced educator, Igoe spent seven years leading backpacking, river rafting and rock climbing expeditions with young people of all ages in Eugene, Oregon. Locally she was lead coordinator at the Pacific Beach Teen Center and at the New Roots Youth Farm at Crawford High School.
In addition to the local farm school program, Solidarity Farm participates in the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture (MESA) program through the University of California, Berkeley. “We currently have an exchange student from Sri Lanka,” Igoe explains, “and one from Kenya arriving soon.”
Solidarity Farm produce is available at Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Market, through Good Neighbor Gardens, Harvest to You, and other local CSAs, and at Valley Center and other local farmers’ markets.
Solidarity Farm offers multiple complementary business opportunities to aspiring farmers and food-based entrepreneurs. It is currently accepting proposals from individuals or small groups who are interested in operating an independent small business in collaboration with Solidarity Farm. In addition to a solid brand, loyal customer base, and proven business model, it offers on-site facilities and vehicles, as well as marketing support and product distribution through existing sales channels. In return, it requires a land lease of $2,000 per acre per year, payment of monitored water consumption, liability insurance and state permitting, and adherence to “ethically grown” principles.
14909 Pauma Valley Dr., Pauma Valley