Hernan Cavazos is the owner and lead farmer of Solidarity Farm, a cooperative family farm on land owned by the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians
Hernan Cavazos has long understood that people are connected to the land they live on and find sustenance from. The desire to strengthen that connection, in a way that leads to equity and justice in our food system and practices, contributed to the creation of Solidarity Farm, a 10-acre cooperative family farm on land owned by the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians in Pauma Valley.
“I helped establish Solidarity Farm because I wanted to feed my community and my family, and I believed it could be done in a way that both heals the land and the diet-related illnesses that are sickening our people,” he says.
Part of this is done through the Foodshed Small Farm Distro and Resource Hub, a farmer-owned cooperative that connects smaller farms directly with consumers; their mutual mentoring relationships with other small farms; and their ongoing self-guided farm tours for children and adults (“Fight Climate Change with Your Fork!”) that offer lessons on climate change through activities they can participate in on the farm. The tours take place from 1 to 3 p.m. each Wednesday and Friday at 14909 Pauma Valley Drive in Pauma Valley.
Cavazos, 36, is the owner and lead farmer of Solidarity Farm, and president of its Foodshed Small Farm Distro and Resource Hub. He lives in Pauma Valley with his partner Ellee Igoe, and his children, Madix, Isabel, and Rowan. Cavazos took some time to talk about his work and vision for Solidarity Farm, growing up on farmland in Mazatlan, Mexico, and his brief life as a professional basketball player back home.
Q: Tell us about Solidarity Farm.
A: Solidarity Farm began in 2012 with a vision to grow healthful food that could nourish families and the land. We grow more than 60 types of fruits and vegetables on 10 acres and specialize in strawberries, carrots, mixed greens and potatoes. We also pasture poultry as an important part of our farming ecosystem.
(The name) “Solidarity” is the acknowledgement that we need one another to thrive — that if I help you, you will help me. It is a relationship of trust and interdependence — in this case, between our farm, the land and the people we feed.
Q: I hear that you used to play professional basketball at home in Mazatlan, Mexico? How did you go from pro basketball to farming?
A: I played on state and national teams from the ages of 12 to 20, and then for the Tiburones de Mazatlan for four years, as a forward.
Since I was really young, I felt a pull toward the land and a connection with feeding people. Sinaloa is the agricultural heartland of Mexico, so farming was always all around me. But I watched big, agricultural industries move in and displace people and erode the culture. With all their modern technologies, they were actually degrading the land. I wanted to find another path — to demonstrate that the way my abuela (grandmother) grew up in El Verde held more promise for a viable and sustainable future.
Q: What is the relationship between the farm and the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians? And how does Solidarity Farm approach its farming and stewarding of the land owned by the Luiseño Indians?
A: There is something extremely grounding about collaborating with people who have been in this valley for more than 10,000 years. Pauma are farmers, too, so we have established a relationship of mutual support that feels really good. We share a commitment to creating a farming system that nourishes and doesn’t over extract from the land and to healing our communities through healthy food.
What I love about Pauma Valley …
Pauma is a unique place that calms my homesickness for Mazatlan. Every morning, I watch the sunrise over Palomar Mountain and count my blessings.
Q: Where did the idea for the “Fight Climate Change with Your Fork!” self-guided tours come from?
A: There are tours for adults or kids. Every day, we get to decide what we eat — some of us with more privilege and fewer access challenges than others — and those choices can have a positive impact on climate, equity and the local economy. When we choose to buy from local farmers who are implementing climate-smart farming practices that sequester greenhouse gas emissions, we are literally fighting climate change with our forks.
When COVID-19 hit, we saw an overwhelming surge in demand for our produce at Solidarity Farm that mostly dissipated when the shelves restocked. So, we wanted to demonstrate to people why they need to invest in local farms every day: for food security, for health, and for future emergencies that will only increase with the climate crisis. We chose to do self-guided tours to ensure personal safety and social distancing, while also helping people get out of the house and onto the farm.
Q: Can you walk us through how this event works, and what people can expect if they bring their kids?
A: Families sign up online, meet at our farm stand, and receive a guidebook and a quick orientation. Then they follow the approximately half-mile interpretive trail and participate in hands-on activities like taking soil samples, planting seeds, and feeding the chickens, goats and pigs.
Q: What are some of the regenerative farming practices conducive to the arid, Southern California climate that you’ve found useful at Solidarity Farm?
A: Regenerative farming is about cultivating healthy soil microbiology and maximizing photosynthesis, which presents unique challenges in the arid Southwest since both require water. One asset we have is that there is a lot of “green waste” to integrate from our large urban population. If we can compost that waste and apply it on our farms, and then reduce or eliminate the number of times we till, we can increase the amount of organic matter in our soil. More organic matter means a better habitat for microorganisms to thrive, better water-holding capacity, and improved resilience during times of drought. Best of all, compost application puts carbon back where it needs to be — locked up underground instead of causing warming in our atmosphere.
There are many other “carbon farming” methods that we are trialing, but they all begin with building carbon-rich, living soil.
Q: Your website says that your operation believes that “nutritious food should be accessible to all people” and that you’re looking to distribute your food “in ways that build a more equitable and just food system.” Can you talk about why it matters to you to make nutritious food accessible to everyone?
A: We all have a responsibility to look at ways we can make our communities stronger. We grow beautiful food, and I don’t think it is conscionable to only sell it to the highest bidder. So, we fundraise resources to subsidize the cost of our food in certain neighborhoods, and we partner with organizations and community-led groups to help spread the word about how and where people can access it.
Q: What are some of the ways in which you’re working to distribute your food in ways that build more equity and justice in the food system?
A: Overcoming access issues is way more than any one farm or organization can take on. So, last year we helped launch Foodshed Small Farm Distro and Resource Hub, a farmer-owned cooperative dedicated to sourcing from regenerative small farms and distributing directly to consumers in San Diego County. Foodshed is a place where farmers and eaters can connect, invest in regenerative, climate-smart farming, and help build out a more equitable distribution system.
Q: What would a more equitable and just food system ideally look like, from your perspective?
A: A just food system would look like more farms, growing real food and local distribution channels that reach to neighborhood level. It would look like public investment in mentoring farmers, connecting farmers with viable farmland, and developing local food infrastructure to facilitate neighborhood-level delivery.
Q: What’s been challenging about your work with Solidarity Farm?
A: Farming is extremely complicated with variables beyond your control. There are countless government regulations and uneducated customer expectations to navigate. We push through it all because the simple beauty of an emerging seed makes it all worth it.
Q: What’s been rewarding about this work?
A: There is something beyond pleasure on the face of a child who pulls a carrot from the ground, dusts it off on their pants, and takes a bite. “These are the best carrots I’ve ever tried!” is all the reward I need.
Q: What has this work taught you about yourself?
A: Farming has taught me to be patient and humble. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t need a large dose of each.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: First try to “do it yourself.”
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: Although I love farming, I’m equally passionate about fishing the Pacific Ocean.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: My ideal weekend would entail finishing all the farm work; catching limits on Dorado (fishing) with my kids, Madix, Isabel and Rowan; and enjoying fish tacos with farm-fresh salsa and a local IPA on my front porch in Pauma Valley.