Interview with Juan Jose Domingo of Filaki Farms
When did you start farming?
For me, it’s not that I jumped into farming at some point, just like that. I’ve been a farmer all my life. My family are farmers, and even though I did different things growing up, I’ve always been a farmer. I’ve worked with all kinds of plants—vines, fruit trees, and more. The latest crops on my farm are organic vegetables. The experience of growing vegetables is very interesting and intense, and very rewarding too.
My family in Spain are farmers and my grandfather was a farmer too. In Spain, the farmed vegetables are artichokes, onions, and melons, but most aren’t grown organically. My organic experience started when I moved to California. In Spain, my family has a large piece of land and they use chemicals—but it’s something I was never interested in. Farmers are caught in a system the way things work there. It doesn’t seem like there’s a big market for organic there, and it doesn’t seem like there’s much possibility for change. What my family grows gets exported to Northern Europe too.
Why do you grow organic produce?
One reason to grow organic is partially the health part of it, but not just the health and physical part of it. The main reason is for the health that organic farming brings to nature and everything related to nature. What organic farmers do is good for people and good for our environment. It’s just the right thing to do. Also, it does feels good to do something that helps people with their health. Just the quality of the food and the flavors are fantastic. The soil is amazing. It’s like having soil that is alive and changing versus soil that is kind of dying. Chemicals have probably been destroying the soil for years. On our farm, it’s different. We are building up this farm every year, since we started. Every year, it gets better and better. That’s something that happens with growing vegetables—they make things better. We are building something alive. We are making the land better.
What are your biggest hurdles?
The biggest hurdle is that we grow so many different kinds of vegetables, and it’s very hard to know exactly how to grow each one very well. It takes many years. I think what helps the most are our experiences, being in contact with other farmers, talking with other farmers, and seeing other farms. It helps to make an exchange of ideas and experiences. Also, BriarPatch has been a good source for information because of the plans the Produce Department puts together. They are very committed to the community. what has helped the most?
Hearing what people say about Filaki Farms is very rewarding for us. Because people say they feel really good about Filaki Farms, and they rely on us, it makes us understand that we are doing something really good. We get the feedback that our produce is rated very highly and, for me, it motivates me to keep going. Sometimes, the people I talk with have been in BriarPatch, and they buy our produce there and tell me that they really like it.
What is difficult about farming?
What is difficult about farming is making a living with it. To get to a point where you’re generating enough income to keep the business moving has been difficult. It’s a struggle to get paid enough, because of how farming systems work.
What is the best about farming?
The most pleasurable thing is just to be here on the land, to listen to the frogs, to see the plants growing, to see nature doing its thing. It’s beautiful. It makes me feel good to see plants alive like this, coming out of the soil, so beautiful with such nice flavors. It’s feels good to see so many birds—it’s very healthy for you. There are a lot more birds here now than there used to be. In a way, we provide for the birds. There are a lot of insects on the farm, and the birds come to feed. It gets very alive here. We also have a lot of frogs. I don’t remember seeing this many frogs before.
What is your favorite crop?
My favorite crop this year is arugula. I enjoy growing arugula because it is beautiful. I have fun growing all the vegetables, and I enjoy eating the arugula. But I have to say I enjoy every crop we grow here.
I’m planning on experimenting and growing some new crops. Working with BriarPatch will be better if I have a bigger variety of veggies. I’m experimenting with celery and lettuce right now. I started last year, and I’m expanding. Also, we started our Farm Stand last year. Most of our produce, almost 90%, had been going to BriarPatch, and then we put out a table to see what would happen with friends who asked us for produce. We thought a few people would come. But then, this simple thing started to grow from seven to eight people coming by to 127 people on a recent Friday. It’s just fantastic to see the community supporting us this way.