Meet The Women Who Grow and Harvest California Strawberries
Strawberries are handpicked and packed in the field. It takes tens of thousands of men and women each day in California to skillfully harvest strawberries to make sure they get from the farm to your table. For every berry, there is a story behind the person from whom it was picked.
Many of these stories emerge from generations of Latina women who immigrate to the United States in search of a better future. In many cases these journeys begin with uncertainty that evolves into courage backed by a strong commitment to work hard and do what it takes to create better opportunities for themselves and their families.
Countless numbers of these untold stories of inspiration continue to rise up across California strawberry fields – many woven with familiar struggles that include the difficulties of learning a new language, adapting to a different culture, sacrificing education or time with family to work long days in the fields to make ends meet.
The following stories are told from women who started out as strawberry pickers and advanced their way to become supervisors, managers, and even growers who own or lease their own farms. Many share wonderful stories of success in reaching their goals to purchase their own homes, send their kids to college, or simply open doors to more opportunities and live the American dream.
Mayra’s parents met in the strawberry fields of California where they worked hard to make sure their kids could pursue their dreams. Mayra went to college and soon knew that she’d be returning to the family’s business and, in fact, taking it to the next level.
Mayra used her business administration and accounting degree to start Golden State Farms where she leads the family-owned business that grows strawberries on dozens of acres.
She’s been training the rest of her siblings to handle many of the jobs in the business. For example her brother is in charge of transportation, her sister assists in marketing, and her mom and dad continue to consult.
Lorena Chavez is a Santa Maria strawberry grower and the first woman to chair the California Strawberry Commission. She comes from a family that has been farming strawberries for more than 40 years. Her parents started as sharecroppers and she recalls, as a little girl, going out to help them in the fields. Today she is chief operating officer of DL Farm Management, Inc.
Her father Luis is still farming strawberries at 85 years old. He can still be found in the office and driving out to fields, continuing to demonstrate the work ethic he has instilled in his family many years ago. Now, she looks back at the opportunity that strawberry farming created for her family and is grateful she can now provide that same opportunity to even more families.
Bianey is a strawberry picker and student. She came to the U.S. with her parents when she was very young. Both her parents started off as pickers on a strawberry farm but worked their way up to different positions. Currently her mom is a foreman, and her dad is an equipment operator.
Seeing her mother promoted to foreman was an important moment because this position is usually held by men. Bianey soon realized that the strawberry fields were a place of opportunity for anybody.
She’s now pursuing an education in agriculture and plans to become a strawberry farmer. She still works in the fields every summer to earn money and continue to learn.
Norma’s dream is to be more than a supervisor. She looks forward to the time when she can start managing an entire ranch.
She has seen that it’s possible because she’s been working for someone else who started as a picker and worked their way up to become a grower.
Growing More than Just Strawberries
These stories remind us that big dreams sometimes start very small, just like a strawberry plant that flourishes from a small root to a beautiful, colorful plant that yields vibrant, red berries.
In many cases, these courageous, strong women are passing on their work ethic and desire to grow and gain new skills and opportunities to their daughters and sons who maybe come the next generation of California strawberry farmers.