Justino farms by creating opportunities

Para la versión en español de esta historia, por favor oprima aqui.

Justino Borja’s tenacity grows from deep roots. He comes from Mexico, a family of farmers, and a history of working the land. No doubt, that’s where Justino developed his determination and his love for family and land.

Since he has been in the U.S., Justino has always wanted to have his own farm. At first, he had the support of his three brothers, but little by little he found himself alone in his desire to farm his own land.

One day, the Schuyler, Nebraska, resident heard about classes the Center for Rural Affairs offers, and he decided to attend. What began with a dream started to take shape as a possibility and a reality.

Justino learned that if he continued going to the classes, he would get the help required to own his farm. He needed land if he was going to grow crops, so he asked people around his community where he might farm. Center staff also helped Justino with the search. Any lead he received, Justino would immediately follow up and investigate.

Around this time, Justino was attending English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. His instructor Virgil was a retired farmer. When Justino learned of Virgil’s background, he asked about finding land. By this time, Virgil had learned of Justino’s background and strong interest in agriculture. They found that they shared a chemical-free approach to farming, so it didn’t take long to negotiate that Justino could farm some of Virgil’s land for free if he did not use chemicals on his produce.

After three years of working Virgil’s land, Justino is benefiting from Virgil’s mentorship. For example, Virgil and his son Frank planted some tobacco plants for Justino. When tobacco leaves are soaked in water and a little soap, the resulting liquid is sprayed on produce to reduce pest damage.

Virgil has allowed Justino to use more land so he can expand his business. Justino added a parcel where he grows green beans and herbs native to Mexico. Following business and marketing advice from Center staff, Justino has developed two marketing avenues for his high quality, specialty produce: local restaurants and his coworkers, who are hungry for flavors from the home country.

“If you have love and knowledge on how to work the land, farming is the right choice,” Justino said.

As a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) farmer leader, Justino has grown and benefited from his involvement in learning circles. Hosting peers has helped his confidence and knowledge level increase. What he loves most is working the land alongside his wife, son, and twin daughters.

“I love teaching my children that farming is just as productive as any other profession,” he said.  

Justino’s parents visit every year and encourage him to continue with his farming dream. This coming season, Justino is hoping to grow cantaloupe and watermelon. His brothers are starting to show interest in farming once again, especially after seeing Justino’s enthusiasm, positive attitude, and the expansion of his business to include produce other than tomatoes and several varieties of chilies.

He will not give up on finding his own land to farm. He needs tenacity—and he has tons of it.

One-on-one assistance

The Center for Rural Affairs offers one-on-one technical assistance to farmers in networking, education, and leadership, as well as learning circles and group trainings on business and finance, production, and marketing. These services are offered in both Spanish and English.

Feature photo: Justino Borja loves working the land alongside his wife, son, and twin daughters. He serves as a farmer leader, sharing his knowledge in the Center for Rural Affairs’ learning circles. | Photo by Lucia Schulz

Inset photo: Justino Borja, kneeling right, found land and a mentor to accomplish his dream of farming. He works the land alongside his family. | Photo by Lucia Schulz