Next-Generation Farmer Ramon Rojas Prepares to Steward the Family Legacy

Selina Knowles, Communications Coordinator
June 7, 2024

Ramon Rojas holds citrus at Rojas Family Farms' stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

On Thursday mornings at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, Ramon Rojas extends a bright invitation of freshly cut fruit and lively tunes to shoppers at Rojas Family Farms’ stand. Having grown up having what he calls the “best of both worlds,” living between the city and the farm, Ramon is starting to follow in his parents’ footsteps, becoming the face of the business at the farmers market. 

In the United States, nearly 40% of farmers are above the age of 65, so now more than ever, it’s critical to steward the next generation of farmers. For many family farms, planning for transition and keeping a farm within a family for generations can be difficult. Only 30% of family farms are passed down beyond the second generation, and only 12% of second-generation farms make it past the third generation.

Ramon’s parents, Ramon Sr. and Sonia Rojas, are still leading the family farm and business, but Ramon Jr. has taken on more responsibilities in the last couple of years, as he considers his future. 

Sonia and Ramon Jr. Rojas pose with grapes at Rojas Family Farms' stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
Sonia and Ramon Jr. at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

Rooted in a Farmers Market Family

Ramon has been helping his parents on the farm and at the farmers markets since he was around 10 years old, bagging fruit and cutting samples. “The Ferry Plaza in particular has a special place in my heart because I literally grew up there,” says Ramon. “My mom would bring us as kids. So, it’s special to go back as an adult and see the same people still supporting us there.” 

He recalls going to school and “doing suburban things” in Manteca during the week and visiting the farm in Reedley on weekends. Ramon left California to attend college with a soccer scholarship, but after an injury, he ended up at home. While recovering, he got more involved in the farm’s operations and enjoyed it so much that he stayed.

“When you’re young, you don’t realize the blessings you have, the fruits at your disposal,” he says. “I forgot what it was like to interact with people from day to day, and I didn’t realize how much that plays a part in your mental health. Also, being able to see people’s reaction when they try our food is very fulfilling. I know my parents did all the work they’ve done to create that.”

Sonia and Ramon Sr. pose for a photo in front of trees at Rojas Family Farms.
Sonia and Ramon Sr. by Rojas Family Farms.

Tracing the Farm’s History

When Ramon Sr. first came to the States from El Salvador in the 1980s, he started working for farmer Frank Paredez in Exeter. Ramon Sr. and Sonia were both employees at the farm. Ramon Sr. learned more and more, and eventually became Frank’s right-hand man. He saw the business potential in farming, and he also enjoyed it. So, he started renting land, then purchasing it. In 2010, he started Rojas Family Farms in Reedley. 

At the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, Paredez Farms was one of the originals, and as Rojas Family Farms became established, Paredez transitioned their spot in the market to the Rojas family. “It’s the best market for me,” says Sonia, who worked at Paredez’s stand from the start. “The place is good, the customers are nice. I’ve had some customers for more than 30 years, coming every Saturday. They’re family.”

Year-round, Rojas Family Farm’s stand is brimming with fruit, from cherries and peaches in the late spring and summer and grapes and pomegranates in the fall to Cara Cara oranges and grapefruit throughout the winter. Following his mom’s example, Ramon Jr. tries to make visiting Rojas Family Farm’s market stand a joyful experience. 

“My mom and I like to play music, offer samples, and always have a smile on our face,” he says. “I hug almost all my customers because I really appreciate them coming back every week, year after year. We try to make it a full experience at the stands and hope people are eating fruit and dancing at the same time.”

Farmer Sonia Rojas shares citrus samples with Foodwise Kids participants.
A group of Foodwise Kids sample produce at Rojas Family Farms’ stand.

Educating Shoppers to Keep the Business Going 

Even at the farmers market, Ramon hears plenty of comments and questions about pricing, which he attributes to a gap in consumer knowledge about how produce makes it from the fields to the farmers market. 

“When you have stores like Safeway, it’s hard when people compare those prices to what you have at the farmers market,” he says. “We’re a small business. These stores are huge. In order for them to get a big bang for their buck, they have to pay very little for their fruit. That’s why they’re able to sell it for a little price.”

Buying directly from local growers at farmers markets is more supportive of local economies. Growers selling locally create 13 full time jobs per $1 million in revenue earned. While produce that you’ll find at the grocery store travels over 1,500 miles on average before being consumed, the fruit at the Rojas’ stand travels only 210, meaning it is fresher and has a lower carbon footprint.

Ramon continues, “We do the work ourselves. It’s kind of hard for people to see how much work actually goes from bringing the fruit from the farm to the actual stand itself. It’s very frustrating when somebody turns you down over a dollar.” 

For Rojas Family Farms and other small businesses, consumer education is key, and the farmers market is a perfect place to start. Four out of five farmers selling at markets discuss farming practices with their customers, so shoppers can learn more about how their food is grown and the impact that their purchases have on the local environment and economy. 

On Thursdays, Rojas Family Farms’ stand is a favorite among elementary school students on Foodwise Kids field trips. During the program, students tour the farmers market, meet farmers and food makers, and sample seasonal produce. Education can start with showing kids at a young age how their fruit is grown, where it comes from, or even just that it can taste as sweet as candy, says Ramon.

Ramon and Diana Rojas pose with fruit at Rojas Family Farms' stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
Ramon Jr. and Diana Rojas at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

Learning and Looking Forward

Out of three siblings, Ramon is most likely to eventually take over the family farm. His younger sister, Diana, helps out at farmers markets sometimes, but her and Ramon’s older sister are both pursuing different careers. 

“It kind of fell in my lap.” He says that aside from seeing it as a viable career, he enjoys keeping active, being outside, and getting to know shoppers at the farmers market. “I don’t think there’s a job that checks as many boxes as being a farmer and being at farmers markets does.”

“In the future, maybe my son will take the business,” says Sonia, who is glad to have the help.

“It’s definitely something I want to do, but it’s still a little early,” says Ramon Jr. “There are a lot of things I’m still learning, and my dad is doing great for his age, so he doesn’t want to get off the horse yet.” For now, Ramon Jr. manages some farmers markets in the Bay Area and helps out on the farm as needed. 

“It’s a beautiful experience to be able to do something together as a family and watch something grow from seed to fruit,” says Ramon. “And I mean that in every way because our business was just a little seed. We ended up expanding and here we are.”

Support Rojas Family Farms at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Thursdays and Saturdays.

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