We’re celebrating women in food this March for women’s history month. Woman-operated farms more than doubled between 1982 and 2007. According to the USDA, about 14% of farms in the U.S. are run by women today, and women make up 30% of all U.S. farmers.
At Bi-Rite, we support a diverse community of farmers and farm workers, including our very own farmer, Layla Aguilar! Read on to learn more about Layla’s life on the farm, how she got her start, and her fav veggies.
What is your role at Bi-Rite Farm? What does a normal day look like?
My day can look a number of different ways! It ranges from being out in the fields from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM in the summer, to pouring over seed catalogues and meeting with other farmers for info-sharing in the winter months. Out on the field, my tasks include seeding, weeding, harvesting, and irrigation. From June through November, I come down to San Francisco twice a week to drop off produce at the Markets. For the past five seasons, we’ve been on one acre; this year we are expanding to three acres. This year, we’ll plant summer cover crops, perennials, hops, berries, herbs, flowers, and cucurbits such as squash, melons, and cucumbers that can roam free.
How did you get interested in food and farming? What set you on this path?
I’ve always had an interest in food. Post-college, I started working in a farm educational program for youth. After that experience, I realized I didn’t want to just teach, I wanted to learn more in-depth farm methods for food production. I enrolled in the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems program at UC Santa Cruz (CASFS). After graduation, I worked on different production and educational farms, and explored in farm marketing and sales. I started at Bi-Rite in July of 2013. It was the first time I was hired in a full vegetable production capacity.
What advice would you give to other women interested in a career in sustainable food and farming?
I’ve attended the Ecological Farming Conference every year since 2007; I have a strong community of farmers I can call on. Most of them have also completed the CASFS program. This network is super important to me. It’s especially nice to build a community of farmers close by during the winter months. It can get a little depressing when you can’t go outside – I love meeting up with a fellow farmer for a coffee and some crop planning!
What are some of the challenges you and other farmers are currently facing, in the Bay Area (or further afield)?
Well, the big one is of course, the drought. Despite all the talk of El Nino, I’m super skeptical and distraught because I’m not sure the rains will be enough. We cannot make water, we are stuck with what we have. I can stress the plants some, but ultimately the lack of water compromises the plants’ quality and quantity. Last year I really pushed the envelope, and we felt the sting with a decrease in production. So for me, a big challenge is getting the job done well, while also being a good steward of the earth. Some specific challenges on the Bi-Rite Farm are heavy soils and salty water (we’re located close to the bay!). However, I’m learning more and more each season about how to care for the land. I’m constantly trying to educate myself and learn from the mistakes that we make.
What is your favorite vegetable?
To grow: Dry beans.
To eat: Cucumbers and peppers. They are so fun to snap right off the vine and munch on – they don’t need anything more! I also love hot peppers….I’m kind of obsessed.
How can the Bi-Rite community get involved in the farm this season? Harvest days?
We’ve organized, and would like to continue to organize, farm visits, especially for the kitchen and produce departments. Sam would say that the ultimate goal of the farm is to educate staff. The more I can get people out there, the more I am doing my job. I have a background in farm education; I love showing large groups around the farm and coming up with on-farm tasks like planting and weeding.
We host Farm School with 18 Reasons, a ten session summer course where participants visit the farm on Saturdays to learn about small scale farming. I love working with the Farm School students because sometimes they have a lot of interest but very little experience. We have to start from the very beginning – like how to hold a tool!