Queen of Vegetables: Yadira Mendiola Transforms Her Passion for Farming into a Business

Yadira Mendiola in front of row crops

A first-generation farmer and a recent graduate of California FarmLink’s El Resilerador ® course, Yadira Mendiola was first exposed to farming in 2007. Today, she grows and sells certified organic products ranging from celery and tomatoes to strawberries and peppers on her farm, Queen of Vegetables, in Salinas. Queen of Vegetables is part of the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), a nonprofit program that supports new growers by providing them with access to land, equipment, and expertise to help them achieve their goal of owning a farm business. Last year, Yadira expanded her farm from 2.7 acres to 8 acres, and is sustaining the operation despite floods and wildfires.

“I have never worked in agriculture before, and neither had anyone in my family,” Yadira explained, “…but I did fall in love with being outside in nature. I also love the camaraderie of sharing with your colleagues, sharing a meal, worrying about each other, sharing water, and taking care of each other.” This love grew as she transitioned to working for a seed company and learned more about breeding, creating transplants, and crops.

“I had this love for being out on the field, but it started to become a passion and I started to fall in love with the process of seeing a seed grow into a plant,” she says. “It's just mindblowing how a tiny seed can give us so much.” Through a coworker, she learned about ALBA’s Farmer Education Course and immersed herself in farming theory and practice. For a year, Yadira attended classes and workshops before starting her own farm on a half-acre at ALBA.

Originally on the path to become a lawyer, Yadira moved to the US right as she was about to start her third year of law school. Though her dreams and plans changed, Yadira’s interest in law still shines through her advocacy in food justice. This spring, she traveled to DC to advocate on the behalf of small farming businesses for the 2023 Farm Bill, a legislative package that determines policy and funding for agriculture and food assistance programs, conservation incentives, and other aspects of the food system. She explains the reason behind her passion for advocacy: “I feel that the food system is not yet fair or just…it's very painful to see many families not only put in all their savings, but they also have to go into debt to keep producing. The food system is not yet equal, nor is it fair.”

To deepen her knowledge of farm business, Yadira signed up for the 10-week El Resilerador, a course to build farmers’ business resilience through workshops on managing risks through responsible practices. Yadira refined her leadership skills, learned more about tax strategies and expanded her network: “Being in the Resilerador class helped us connect with others that were not from our same generation…It opened up the world.” 

El Resilerador is a unique course that emphasizes long-term resilience, sustainable profits, and responsible practices. It starts with a self-assessment and covers business structure, labor, land tenure, accounting, taxation, credit, insurance, and regulatory compliance. Peer-to-peer learning with fellow farmers allows attendees to understand how others have grappled with challenges, and those who complete the course get access to personalized technical assistance.

When asked about the most surprising part of what she’s learned from her farming community, Yadira remarks, “Seeing how people put all their savings into their dream, the savings for their whole family. It's so big because, since I did it myself, I used to think that I was the only one, but I've seen so many others make that choice, to put in all their savings, and maybe their family savings, and livelihoods into this passion.” It’s an emotional moment as she reflects on her journey and farmers who work hard to feed communities all over the country, and sometimes beyond.

“I would like for all the states and the whole world to think about us, our production is going everywhere. I see that our products make it to other countries, even to Canada,” she says. “Now, my dream is to buy a home where I can keep farming, so my business and my passion work hand-in-hand to make a living, but at the same time be in contact with nature.”

Sherlin Benjamin is an International Environmental Policy Master’s Candidate specializing in Sustainability Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey.

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