Video: Balakian Farms: Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Future
December 10, 2021
Creating a sustainable food system means investing in the next generation of organic farmers, while they do the important work of bringing nourishing food to our tables and caring for people and the land. When you donate to CUESA, you are supporting California family farms who share your values of building a just, resilient, and climate-wise food future.
This month, we are shining a light on people who nourish our community and help sustain this vision. In this new video from CUESA, you’ll go behind the scenes at Balakian Farms to meet fourth-generation organic farmer Amber Balakian, her grandmother Stella, and some of the farm’s workers. Amber shares why she is continuing her family’s farming legacy, what your support has meant during the pandemic, and how creating a more diverse and equitable food system makes all of us stronger.
Amber’s great-grandparents immigrated to the U.S. during the Armenian Genocide and settled in Reedley, California, where they planted vineyards. Her grandfather, John, continued in that farming tradition, adding tree fruit and other crops. In the 1990s, Amber’s mother, Ginger, transitioned the farm to organic. The farm is beloved at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market for bringing a rainbow of organic heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, and stone fruit in the summer months.
Amber now manages the farm with her parents, Ginger and Clarence, and grandmother, Stella, along with several full- and part-time workers. She has also innovated and expanded the farm’s offerings with a line of canned tomato sauces.
Her story reflects both the history and future of family farming. “Though I’m half African American and half Armenian, I would say my identity shows up for me in farming, especially in terms of what it looks like to be a farmer,” says Amber. “A farmer looks a certain way…is a certain ethnicity, is a certain gender. I do not fit that stereotype—like, any of them.” Currently, the majority of farmers in the U.S. are male (95%), white (64%), and over 55 years old (62%).
“I definitely feel like I have had to prove myself in some ways,” says Amber, “but at the same time, I feel that because of my unique background, I’m able to connect with my customers in a different way. My family as a whole has been able to do that.”
For the Balakians, putting people first, while caring for the land and growing flavorful and nutritious produce, is at the heart of everything they do. While protecting their workers’ safety, wellbeing, and livelihoods during the pandemic, the market community has been a critical economic lifeline for the family, who rely on farmers markets for the majority of their business.
As California loses 50,000 acres of agricultural land each year and organic farms represent just 4% of the state’s farmland, your support is critical to keeping organic family farms thriving, so farmers like Amber can continue to farm for years to come.
In Amber’s words, “I am choosing to farm and take on my family legacy because it is something that is so important to me and what I stand for, but I also feel like I have a duty to continue because that’s important for our communities.”
Invest in the Next-Generation of Organic Farmers
Farmers like Amber depend on farmers markets—and community members like you—to co-create the healthy, equitable, and regenerative food system we all need. Support the next generation of organic farmers in 2022 and beyond with a donation to CUESA today.
Learn more about Balakian Farms.
Video by Fox Nakai.