In 1972, Geraldine Mary Bardin, widow of Judge James A. Bardin, sold the family’s 110-acre diverse walnut, apricot and poultry farm to a newly formed element of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. The Bardin family had owned the property since about 1925. Judge Bardin was a prominent Monterey County citizen, born in the “Blanco District” near Salinas on December 27, 1873. He graduated from Salinas High School and attended the University of California and the University of Michigan. He was admitted to the California bar in 1905, practiced law in Monterey County and also served as District Attorney. Ultimately he became a Superior Court Judge. He was also an accomplished artist, widely known as one of the best landscape artists capturing scenes of the Salinas Valley.
Geraldine Bardin was a head nurse at Carmel Hospital, and was well-known for running the farm here. Judge Bardin had seven children, including noted plant pathologist Roy E. Bardin, who was very active on the farm and with plant research in the region. Another child, Nancy Bardin-Mitchell, visits ALBA each summer and has shared various family history documents and the photographs seen here.
“Painting of the Salinas farm – James Bardin”
With the 1972 property sale, the federally sponsored Central Coast Counties Cooperative Development Center established a farm-based program eight miles south of downtown Salinas. The program sought to help small-scale Latino farmers work together to form cooperatives and achieve a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Heavily dependent upon federal grant support, the program ended because of economic opportunity program cuts during the early years of President Ronald Reagan’s administration.
The Rural Development Center (RDC) was founded on the farm in 1985 by the Association for Community-Based Education (ACBE) of Washington, DC. Their aim was to serve farm workers in the Salinas Valley, where farms specializing in cool-season, high-value crops attract a massive, largely low-skill and low-paid labor force. Recent estimates indicate that approximately 28% of Monterey County’s population is engaged in agricultural field or processing work. The number of laborers varies from 70,000 to more than 110,000 during peak season.
The RDC pioneered the idea of a “Farmworker to Farmer” program where agricultural workers gain broader skills leading to their advancement on the job, in farm management or possibly farm ownership. From 1985 to 2000, the RDC initiated several successful programs, including a women’s community garden, farmers’ and children’s visits to elder-care centers and numerous farm field days. ACBE also initiated a major capital campaign that resulted in the construction of an office/classroom, maintenance shop and produce cooler/warehouse on the farm. We are grateful for ACBE’s talents and success.
The RDC maintained a local advisory board, and this group initiated discussions toward the goal of transforming the organization into a locally governed non-profit based in Monterey County. The effort proceeded in earnest in 2000, and the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) was incorporated in 2001. Since then, ALBA has honed the previous RDC program strategies and improved land-lease agreements with and responsibilities of participating farmers. We have also expanded the educational curriculum and received Hartnell College’s accreditation for the Small Farmer Education Program. In addition, ALBA also created ALBA Organics as a licensed produce distributor to provide marketing education and greater sales opportunities for beginning farmers. Its strategy is to open up new direct markets for organic produce, including current clients such as Stanford University Dining Services and Asilomar Conference Center.
ALBA provides a variety of services and resources that aim to increase the success of small-scale minority farmers. Historically they have had difficulty prospering because of language and cultural barriers, lack of resources, institutional exclusion and a historical lack of government support and engagement. ALBA works to help these farmers overcome these barriers and create opportunities for them to benefit from organic farming techniques and establish new markets.
Through its work with socially disadvantaged, small-scale, and often immigrant farmers, ALBA is filling a niche in the market for information and technical assistance that has proven difficult for the traditional agricultural extension groups to reach. Since the 1980s, there has been a growing recognition of ethnically diverse and often disadvantaged small-scale farmers. Today they are impacting fresh produce diversity and the demography of American agriculture.
The number of Latino farmers in Monterey County increased 70% from 1997 to 2002, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture. The growth has resulted in 264 Latino-operated farms in Monterey County, outpacing a strong 44% growth rate in the rest of California. Meanwhile, the overall number of farms in Monterey County dropped from 1395 to 1216 in the same period. Despite the overall loss of farms, Latino farmers are gaining ground – literally, with a 60% statewide increase in acreage over five years.
Serving a primarily Latino audience, ALBA’s work is grounded by the belief that in order for limited-resource and aspiring farmers to gain a foothold within California’s highly competitive farm sector, they must have access to information, operating capital, and opportunities to access land.