Jim Alvernaz, a third-generation sweet potato farmer, owns Alvernaz Farms with his wife Collette, near Livingston, and has been growing sweet potatoes his whole life. His grandfather came from the Azores to Atwater where he was a sheepherder. After coming to the United States, they began growing sweet potatoes among other crops and Joe Alvernaz, Jim’s father, “taught me everything I know,” said Jim.
The Alvernaz Farm was conserved in 2011 with a conservation easement through then the Central Valley Farmland Trust, now California Farmland Trust. Jim and Colette wanted to offer their children a future on the farm. “My wife and I have nine children,” said Jim. “They are engineers, energy traders, architects, psychologists, journalists, all sorts of good things. They may not want to come back to the farm having the careers they have now, but I went to school to be a journalist and here I am.”
Today in 2019, eight years after placing a conservation easement on their property, Jim and Collette are entering into a new chapter in life. “Life rarely goes as we planned or expected,” said Jim. “I had always hoped to stay a full-time farmer to 70 years old, but regulations and pressures on farming in California have changed significantly since 2011 and well, this year is our last sweet potato crop.”
“The choice to quit farming on our current scale has been an emotional one, this is our life,” continued Jim. “It’s become difficult to keep up with the rules and regulations over time, and while we have done well, it’s the next generations’ stamina to farm in California that will keep it all going.”
“Knowing that these lands are protected for farming so the next generation can take over is essential,” said Charlotte Mitchell, executive director of the California Farmland Trust. “Farming is a tough business, but knowing the land will always remain in agriculture ensures it can be passed on,” added Charlotte.
Jim said, “It is our family’s last sweet potato crop, but this farm will be a farm forever.”
Eating Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are grown on about 20,000 acres in California predominantly in Merced and Stanislaus Counties. So enjoy this local and healthy food readily available from farmers like Jim.
They are not only easy to cook, but they are crazy good for you, oh and best part – they have no fat… now what you put on them could tell a different story – wink, wink!
They’re high in vitamin B6, vitamin A, carotene, and potassium. They’re rich in antioxidant vitamins C and E. And they’re a great source of manganese and dietary fiber. On a per-acre basis, California sweet potatoes are the most nutrient-dense of any commercially grown food. You want to eat them now, don’t you? Here’s a recipe to get your started. Visit casweetpotatoes.com for a whole lot more. And don’t forget when you eat California sweet Potatoes or donate to California Farmland Trust you continue to support local farmers, like Jim and the farmers who come after him.