For Lupe Camarena of Nature Fresh Farms, agriculture has been the way of life as long as she can remember. In Yuma, Arizona where she lives, agriculture is just about everything. Fields of leafy greens stretch as far as the eye can see. And for Nature Fresh Farms, lettuce is one of the main hearts and souls of the operation, grown with pride.
Born and raised on a farm in southern Arizona, Lupe Camarena of Nature Fresh Farm has deep roots in the agriculture industry. Both of parents worked on farms, and in fact, her dad is 78 and still working on the farm today. Lupe was married and had children at a young age. Now, she is a single, working mom, juggling a career and kids amidst the fields of green.
Lupe’s entry into agriculture started with an opportunity working at a cotton gin. From there, she was referred to a vegetable grower, where she spent seven years. She then moved to another farm company where she worked in administration for 10 years. That windy path of experience and hard work led her to Nature Fresh Farms, where she has spent the last decade working as a Safety Manager.
Green Fields and a Heart of Gold
While at Nature Fresh Farms, Lupe decided to go back to school, balancing being a working mom and student. She graduated in 2014 with a food science degree. Today, she manages the food safety program, which spans over 10,000 acres of leafy greens, melons, spinach, cabbage, broccoli and lettuces across Arizona and California. The responsibility of a Safety Manager is to provide a safe food product to consumers. Lupe doesn’t take that important responsibility lightly.
Bilingual FarmHer Works to Keep Lettuce Fresh and Healthy
We started the busy day with Lupe before the sun was up, in her office. Lupe had already been going for awhile – getting the kids up, cooking breakfast and making sure they are ready to get on the bus to school. As the sun rose, we hopped in her work truck, with the phone already ringing with a call from her daughter.
With that settled, we weren’t more than another mile down the road and her phone rang yet again. This time, it was work-related, which meant another series of multiple calls to get an issue sorted out. Depending on who she was talking to, she seamlessly switched between Spanish and English as she sorted out the issues. It became clear very quickly that being bilingual is a necessity in her job.
Food Safety is Top Priority
We made our first stop out at an expansive field of leafy greens. As we drove in, Lupe talked through all of the safety measures she considers for each field. That field was close to a busy road, so fences were important to stop any unwanted debris from blowing into the field. They also had special speakers set up to deter birds – and the waste that inevitably comes with the birds.
We then stopped at the water sanitization station. Vegetables in her area require irrigation, with water traveling through an irrigation ditch. Nature Fresh Farms has been treating their irrigation water for years, though it has recently become an industry standard. By treating the water, this ensures the irrigation being put on the crops is safe and won’t bring bacteria onto the crop.
An Important Piece of the Food Supply Puzzle
The next stop was another few miles down the road, this time at a field filled with broccoli being harvested by a team of employees. Lupe explained that these workers cross the border to work every day. Their days start very early, getting to the border to take a bid on work, then crossing and finally getting to the field to begin a long day of harvesting. We know that it takes much commitment from many hands for food to be planted, grow, stay safe, be harvested and processed, then shipped out to grocery stores. But, seeing it first hand and hearing more about the workers in the field really hit home. Farm workers are mostly invisible, but are such an important piece of our food puzzle that we are thankful for.
Our day with Lupe at Nature Fresh Farms was equal parts interesting, educational and enjoyable. Her ability to work through any of the issues that came up with directness and efficiency is simply incredible, and her care and concern about the food that comes from their farm is evident. Learning just how much planning and focus goes into keeping our food fresh, and knowing that Lupe is there behind the scenes brings us comfort in the quality of food provided at the store. Lupe’s story is different than many FarmHers, but it is essential. And it’s an honor to be able to share it with you.