On any given day you can find the Paniaqua siblings Jose, Mayra, Alicia, Daisy, Jennifer and Viviana Paniagua growing strawberries at their ranch in Santa Maria, California.
It all started back in 1979 when their parents, Sylvia and Manuel, met while working in strawberry fields after moving to the United States from Michoacan, Mexico. They both had a deep desire to pursue a better future for themselves and their families.
Growing Dreams, Strawberries & a Family
Sylvia was working hard as a “champion” picker and Manuel was handling maintenance and quality control when they met. Sylvia quickly won the heart of Manuel – and by 1984 they sealed the deal and tied the knot. The couple spent the next eight years working hard to pay the bills, gain experience in agriculture, and best of all – build their beautiful family by bringing their six beautiful children into the world.
As their family grew, the couple’s dream was to acquire land, become farmers themselves and own their business. In 1997 they finally landed that opportunity and started Sylvia Farms. Manual used his experience gained from doing various jobs in agriculture to care for the land and grow strawberries. Sylvia was able to manage the financial side of the business despite having no formal education. Life was good and they were starting to see their dreams come to fruition.
Mayra Becomes a Strawberry Farmer
Ten years later, things began to take a turn when Manuel got sick and was not able to work in the same capacity. As a result, the entire family faced many challenges throughout those years but held on strong to their faith that things work work out.
When Mayra, Sylvia and Manuel’s eldest daughter, went off to college, the family wasn’t sure where that path would lead her. But it wasn’t long before Mayra realized that she would one day return to her agricultural roots to give back to her community and the parents who sacrificed so much. She knew it was her destiny to become a strawberry farmer in Santa Maria.
After Mayra graduated with a degree in business administration and accounting, she put all she learned into practice and started Golden State Farms where she currently leads the family-owned business in growing strawberries on dozens of beautiful acres along the central valley coast.
A Family Strawberry Business
Since 2014 Mayra has been building a thriving, family business and training her siblings to do virtually every job necessary to produce delicious strawberries for people to enjoy across the nation. For example, her brother is in charge of transportation and her sisters pitch in with picking, social media, administrative jobs and even dipping strawberries for the chocolate-covered strawberries they sell. Her mom and dad continue to guide and assist her with everything from farming questions to payroll, HR and quality control.
The Sun Comes Out for Everybody
As a strawberry farmer, Mayra believes that with hard work her employees, or anybody, can achieve their dreams. She says, “El sol sale par todo el mundo,” which means, “The sun comes out for everybody.” She says that if there is something she and her family can do to help their strawberry pickers and field workers fulfill their goals and dreams, then they do it. “Our crew is like family to us, and many have been with us since the beginning,” says Mayra.
She attributes her passion and success to both her parents who continue to inspire her, especially her mother whom she considers to be her biggest role model and a “warrior.”