Bon Appétit believes that making a difference in the lives of others—one that pays dividends long past the holiday season — is the best gift we can give. Every year, we make a donation to a food-related nonprofit on behalf of our clients. Previous recipients have included Wholesome Wave, which helps bring healthful, locally grown fruits and vegetables to low-income families, and the Farmer-Veteran Coalition (FVC),which helps recent military veterans transition to becoming farmers.
This year’s beneficiary is the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), which borrows from the missions of both. Based in California’s Salinas Valley, the heart of America’s salad bowl, ALBA pioneered a “Farmworker to Farmer” program that provides educational and business opportunities for farmworkers and other would-be farmers to grow and sell their own organic crops. Through a nine-month, hands-on course followed by the possibility of business incubation, participants are taught farm management and organic crop production practices with an emphasis on business success.
Several years ago, ALBA spun off ALBA Organics as a licensed produce distributor, to help these beginning farmers sell their products. That way, whether they have three bunches of carrots or three boxes, they have a guaranteed outlet. Many of Bon Appétit’s Silicon Valley and other Bay Area accounts buy produce from ALBA Organics as one of our Farm to Fork partners.
Another vital element that ALBA provides for its trainees is certified organic land, a precious commodity in Salinas Valley that they would otherwise have little access to. Seeded with the gift of a 110-acre farm in 1972, ALBA now owns 160 acres total, of which about half is under cultivation. Its trainees start out with a 300-foot row and scale up to managing a half-acre, then at the most six acres, at subsidized land-lease rates.
“They have to learn forecasting as they go, what they’ll harvest and when,” says Tony Serrano, ALBA Organics general manager, who gave a team from Bon Appétit headquarters a tour over the summer. “It’s about creativity on a small scale.” Organic strawberries can average $60,000 per acre, and most ALBA farmers do indeed plant strawberries, he said. But one discovered that organic cilantro could be even more lucrative, as it requires only 40 days from seed to harvest, and was able to gross twice that per acre. Another surprise high grosser, according to Tony: sunchokes.
ALBA works primarily with socially disadvantaged, small-scale, and often immigrant farmers, and it has had some amazing success stories, ranging from Maria Catalan, a former farmworker whose Catalan Farms now serves a dozen Bay Area farmers’ markets and as many restaurants, to Octavio Garcia, who started at ALBA“as an 18-year-old Salinas boy with $200 in his pocket and is now in in his fourth year, farming five acres and going to college,” says Tony.
Bon Appétit is proud to be able to help play a role in seeding America.