Minority-owned farms grow in Oregon

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PORTLAND — Florentin Salazar picks strawberries, a cowboy hat shielding his eyes from the late afternoon sun.

Salazar, a 54-year-old Guatemala native, owns one of 138 known minority-operated farms in the county. While the number of total farms has stayed relatively constant, the number of minority-operated farms has increased eightfold since the Census of Agriculture first started tallying operators by racial group in 1974.

“When I came to this country in 1979, it was my dream to own a farm,” Salazar said. “It’s a process that takes a lot of time, but with patience, persistence and love, more than anything, it is attainable.”

Updated every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the census breaks down farm and ranch data by state and county. Minority farm operators are identified by racial group.

In 1974, Washington County had 17 farms with minority operators. That number rose steadily over the years, especially in Latino- and Asian-operated farms. By the 1997 census, the county knew of 45 minority-operated farms.

Then in 2002 the number skyrocketed to 128 minority-owned farms.

Dean Moberg, a Washington County district conservationist for the USDA, said one reason for the increase is Oregon’s food revolution, which has allowed minorities and immigrants to start small farms.

“People want local food,” he said. “That really encourages small farms and, a lot of times, organic farms. It helps minority farmers get over that stumbling block of not having a huge amount of capital.”

In addition, Adelante Mujeres, a Latino empowerment nonprofit in Forest Grove, has been churning out small farmers since 2005 through its Sustainable Agriculture program. The class teaches Latino immigrants how to grow organic food. While some participate for the health and cost benefits, others do it with the hopes of starting their own farm business.

Salazar said many immigrants come to the United States in search of a stable income, and agriculture is a risk. “Imagine if someone buys land, has enough money to maintain it for five months, and then has a bad harvest,” he said.

Even so, it all comes back to persistence, Salazar said. Having owned his farm since 2007, he cultivated that soil into a dream come true. Despite setbacks, he said, more like him will begin to do the same.

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