Tierra Fértil Co-op is a worker-owned, Hispanic co-operative in Hendersonville, NC. The six farmers in the co-op began growing food on a one-acre plot in Henderson County two years ago. They are not only growing food, but creating a tangible impact in their local community through a mutual aid model that values collective power, solidarity, and entrepreneurship.
Tierra Fértil are Farmers of Color Network members and are working with RAFI-USA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and the Come to the Table program to increase their market access and capacity. They are growing a variety of crops, some specific to Latin cuisine, that they will provide to partnering churches and their newly formed CSA members. We spoke to one of the founding members, Delia Jovel Dubón, to learn more about the co-op and what drives their work.
Tell us a little about Tierra Fértil and how you all came together to start farming?
The COVID pandemic was one of the main reasons that moved us to think about farming. Many of us have experienced some uncertainty related to income reduction, economic limitations, quarantine, loss of jobs, among others. All this made us think about how relevant and decisive it was to develop a mutual aid initiative, a source of food and a source of income led by Hispanic community members. I think also the interest to recover knowledge about how to become more sustainable and resilient.
Why faming? Was farming in any of your backgrounds growing up?
For some of us, farming was in our memories because of our families or our childhood or experience in our own countries. Farming in a foreign country, in an environment unknown to us, with a different climate, has been a tremendous learning challenge. We are not experienced farmers, but I think we have a great sensibility, a land attachment, and a great connection with nature that makes us feel proud and honored to rediscover the value and wealth of producing good and clean food.
How do you see farming shaping and positively impacting your community?
I think we are showing that it is possible to work differently, as a collective, take care of us, support each other, and that we can make social change locally. As a group of Hispanics leading an economic initiative with social projection we are connecting resources, organizations and capabilities that make us reaffirm that we are people and a community with tremendous entrepreneurial potential. Deciding for ourselves and constructing a collective dream allows us to inspire others, and above all, change the narrative that exists about us. On the other hand, it is another way to have a more active participation in the system of production and distribution of food in our community.
How has it been working in the Hendersonville, NC community?
Henderson County is our home, the place where we live. Doing this work in our own community is a way to feel more comfortable and feel that we belong here. This is a conservative community but we are happy to have been able to create great relationships with community members, farmers, and other local organizations. We are happy that people trust in us and are interested in supporting us. We believe that things are changing – not just because of us – but because many people are doing great things in our community. We hope to be able to make more changes to create more diverse and integrated communities.
What are your goals for the 2022 season?
Our main goal is to strengthen our initiative by developing our capacity, improve our production, strengthen our community connections and become more resilient, profitable and sustainable. We would like to be able to access our own land, to make our farm a sustainable source of food for our community and sustainable source income for the cooperative members.
Why has Tierra Fértil chosen to become a cooperative? What do you see as the advantages of this model?
The reason we decided to create a cooperative was because we believe in collective power, we believe in protecting us, we believe in the need to share capacities, to share knowledge and create community.
We believe in this model because it was the one that best suited our aspirations and our interests. Creating democratic and collective spaces is not easy but they are tremendously empowering. It is a way to develop leadership and our community needs more Hispanic leadership.
All of your farmer members have jobs and families outside of farming. How has it been working collectively to farm with everything that you have going on?
Not easy, but as immigrants, as undocumented, as heads of families, as mothers, we have developed the capacity to try to manage many things at the same time. To be honest, farming is not another job, it becomes an activity that has made us believe in ourselves, for our own development. It is an activity that provides us enjoyable time, that makes us feel rooted, that makes us learn and grow. When we farm, we are able to talk in Spanish, listen to music, laugh, share our concerns, etc. Farming makes us feel like family, at home.
What is the co-op growing this year?
We are interested in continuing growing Hispanic culturally appropriate food (vegetables and herbs) producing sweet strawberries and some other fruits. We plan to start growing flowers and some ornamental plants. We want to grow clean and delicious food, as well as sow into our community the idea of collective work and solidarity.