We chat with Mario Alvarez at Big River Farms
What is your connection to farming?
In my country I grew mostly coffee, some corn, and a little bit of beans. That’s what people cultivate the most in Guatemala – the southern part – Santa Rosa. It’s temperate there, not too cold and not too hot.
I’ve been farming all my life, and for generations – my great grandparents, my grandparents, my parents, my siblings, and me, we all farmed. But the only thing we sold was the coffee. The corn, beans, and everything else was just for our own consumption and to feed our animals.
But in my country, it’s not as easy to farm as it is here, with tractors and machinery. We don’t have the machinery like you do here. There you have to do things by hand. You work more with hoes and shovels. There are some areas where people have tractors, but the area where I’m from there was only one or two tractors for a whole community – if you had money, you could pay the owner to cultivate your land, but if you didn’t it was all by brute strength.
Tell us about your farm.
Farming here is really great. I have only a little land. I planted a couple of beds of onions, two of red peppers, carrots, and tomatoes. All together I have about 8 beds. I plan on selling the onions – it’s about 5000 plants, so it’s a lot! The tomatoes, too, if I can sell them, great.
I go to the farm Saturday and Sunday, and sometimes in the evenings. I’m a semi driver. I go long distances, but I usually come back the same day.
Could you share a favorite farm memory?
My dad and my grandparents were farmers – that’s the memory I like the most. I had the family tradition with our land to grow on. Thank God I connected to Big River Farms through Porfirio, another BRF Farmer, and visited the farm last season.
Have there been any surprises along the way?
Yes – a lot. The farming systems are all different here. In Guatemala, we just live by the rain that falls from the sky. Here I’ve learned to use irrigation systems with hoses, drip tape, and everything. It’s very nice, but very different.
What’s your favorite part about being a small farm business owner?
I like the contact with the earth… The plants. It is what intrigues me the most. If there is a little money in it too, that’s great.
Success as an emerging/beginning farmer?
I’m proud because, for example, at 9pm last night I was still at the farm taking care of my plants. Before at that time of night, I would have been on the couch. But now I don’t have any time to do that. I work from 5am to 5pm. After my job, I go to the farm to work. I’m proud of being active.
Any challenges as an ‘emerging’ farmer?
To learn has been the challenge more than anything. Sometimes when I am learning about growing organic, I know things from my experience in Guatemala, but some things are new. I would like to learn more to bring it back to Guatemala and share with the other farmers in my community there.
Another challenge before I found Big River Farms was that it was difficult to find land here to farm. I’m a truck driver, and my wife is a hair stylist. One day Porfirio visited the salon where my wife works and she cut his hair. When she came home, she was all excited to tell me she met a man who grew corn and beans here in Minnesota. I said I really wanted to do that too.
What do you imagine your farm being like in the future?
I would like to continue to farm when I retire – not to work anymore, but to do it like a sport to stay active. Not really for a business, but just to do it. Maybe a small 2–3-acre farm.