How a Second-Generation Strawberry Farmer Carries on his Father’s Legacy
Santa Maria California is home to acres and acres of beautiful vibrant strawberries grown by dozens of family farmers, many of whom learned to farm from their parents and grandparents. Take Juan Candelario for example, a second-generation strawberry farmer who is a partner owner of Valle el Paraiso, which means Valley of Paradise. Just one look across his Santa Maria ranch, decorated with vibrant strawberries glowing in the sunshine, it’s easy to see how that name came about.
Juan’s father came to the United States in the 1950s as part of the Bracero program, a federal program designed to address the agricultural labor shortage. Juan recalls his father traveling back and forth from Mexico to the U.S. for work as a way to support his wife and eight children.
Starting as a picker, his dream was to work his way up to make a better life for himself, his wife and their eight children. With hard work and dedication, Juan’s father found many opportunities in the strawberry community to accomplish his goals.
Once Juan was old enough, he traveled to the U.S. with his father and older brother and was amazed when he first walked onto a strawberry field. That’s when it all started for him, and he never turned back. Juan has a lot of gratitude for his family members who opened the door for him and his other siblings that came to live in the United States.
Juan says that the passion he has for strawberry farming is something he feels every day and that the field feels very much like his second home. Maybe that’s why Juan says, “We belong to the field, to the farm, because we love it…we have that in our blood.
Every Stage in Growing Strawberries is Important
Juan arrives early each morning to walk through the to look closely at all his plants to make sure that “his babies” are receiving all the proper care required to produce the best strawberries – which starts with a strong, healthy plant.
Irrigation, soil humidity, nutrient content in the soil, and even the shape of the soil (called raised beds) are all very important aspects of growing. For example, Juan talks about the importance of making sure the beds are high so that the berries sit away from the soil, while also making it easier for the workers to harvest the strawberries.
Juan stresses the importance of identifying any problems or issues early. He says that preventing issues by paying attention to every detail is key to growing healthy strawberries, which also includes caring for the soil well before the plants are in the ground.
Care for His Workforce
When it comes to his employees, Juan acknowledges that he could not have his strawberry business without his workers. He also knows how difficult it is to be a field worker because he spent years doing the very jobs he employs other to do. He’s very transparent about how field workers are treated and compensated.
Juan explains that many workers are surprised how much they can make harvesting strawberries on a weekly basis. All employees are paid at least minimum wage and have opportunities to get paid more. He says he hears from his workers often that they are happy for the available opportunities in their jobs that help them support their families.
He considers his ranch his second home and the people who work for him part of his family. He says that he enjoys creating a positive work environment for everybody. He can understand and appreciate the hard work it takes to grow and harvest strawberries because he did all of it as he learned to become his own boss. He says, “It starts with your feet on the ground and little by little.”
Juan said, “I don’t regret what I did…I worked hard and now is the time that it pays off, and I appreciate the work that the people do for us.
Juan’s Son Noel – The 3rd Generation Strawberry Farmer
In the same way Juan learned to be a strawberry farmer from his father, he is now teaching his son Noel to be the third-generation grower in the family and many of the same skills and values he was taught growing up. His son Noel is his right-hand man when it comes to the day-to-day farming operations at Valle de Paraiso. Juan says that he loves to see his son in the field and believes it’s key to teach him the most important value of hard work, because in the words of his parents, “Hard work will open the doors for you everywhere you go.”
All along the central and southern coast, hundreds of California strawberry farmers are growing 90 percent of the nation’s strawberries and in many cases, they are second and third-generation farmers. Get to know more of our farmers and hear their personal stories here.
It would be impossible to get strawberries to stores across the world without our farm workers. Learn more about the people who hand-pick your berries!
Follow #StoryBehindtheBerry and @CAstrawberries to stay up-to-date as we follow the stories of California strawberry farmers and farm workers as they plant, grow and harvest your strawberries in real time throughout the year and through peak strawberry season.