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Juan Garcia, national administrator of the USDA Farm Service Agency, is pictured (center) with Inspiration Award winners (from right) Alfredo Mendoza and his daughter Evelia Mendoza, Victoria Lopez, Maria and Pedro Rodriguez, and Francisco Rios. (Courtesy Center for Latino Farmers)

Juan Garcia, national administrator of the USDA Farm Service Agency, is pictured (center) with Inspiration Award winners (from right) Alfredo Mendoza and his daughter Evelia Mendoza, Victoria Lopez, Maria and Pedro Rodriguez, and Francisco Rios. (Courtesy Center for Latino Farmers)

Four Latino couples in Washington State have received Inspiration Awards for their tenacity and yearning to learn as much as possible to become better farm managers.

The awards were presented during the Small Farms Conference organized in February by the Center for Latino Farmers in Yakima, Washington.

Winners were Pedro and Carmen Rodriquez; Alfredo and Alicia Mendoza; Jorge and Victoria Lopez; and Francisco and Maria Rios, all of whom grew up in Mexico and have received help from the center in their quest to become orchard owners in Washington.

Pedro Rodriguez moved to Grandview, Washington, in 1982 to join family members. He worked as a fruit and vegetable picker at various farms and married Carmen in 1988. In 1989, he got steady work with Haak Family Orchards in Sunnyside and became foreman.

In 1999, a Haak family member and his wife set up a new farming operation and asked Rodriguez to become a partner, with his only investment being his sweat equity in managing the operation. The 99-acre operation had wine grapes, apples, cherries, and 26 acres of undeveloped land.

In 2011, Rodriguez had the option to buy out his partners when they decided to sell. The Center for Latino Farmers helped him obtain loans to purchase the operation, which is valued at over $1 million, as well as an operating loan. His goal is to plant apple trees on the undeveloped land.

Alfredo and Alicia Mendoza have lived in Mabton, Washington, since 1990 and have 11 children. Alfredo worked for many different farms and in 2007 decided to lease 36 acres of apples, grapes, and vacant land, on which he planted alfalfa. In 2011, he obtained a Farm Service Agency loan to buy the farm.

In 1985, Jorge Lopez began migrating to the United States to work in orchards and farms during the harvest season and then would return to Mexico. In 1989, he brought his wife, Victoria, and children to Tieton, Washington.

In 2005, they sought help from the Center for Latino Farmers to buy a 20-acre apple orchard and two years later were able to buy an additional 10 acres. A few years later, they bought 23 more acres. Their goal is to continue to grow and to diversify into cherries or pears.

Francisco Rios began coming to the United States as a farmworker in 1975, returning to Mexico after the seasons ended. In 1990, he and his wife, Maria, decided to settle in Wenatchee, Washington, with their children.

Francisco worked for various orchards and kept applying for a loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but was repeatedly turned down for lack of farm management experience.

After gaining more experience, he obtained a bank loan to purchase 37 acres of apples and cherries in Tonasket and has since obtained an FSA loan to pay off his high-interest private loan.

The Small Farm Conference was attended by 136 farm operators throughout the state. Juan Garcia, national administrator of the FSA, and Judy Olson, state FSA director, were among the speakers.

Information for this article was provided by Luz Bazan Gutierrez, chief executive officer of the Center for Latino Farmers, which is operated by the nonprofit corporation Rural Community Development Resources.

The center offers educational workshops on farming, regulations, laws, computers, financial management, and recordkeeping. It also helps farmers obtain low-interest loans.

For more information, call (509) 453-3157 or check the website www.centerforlatinofarmers.com.