Apolinar (Poli) Yerena was born in Jalisco, Mexico, in a family of four generations of farmers. He has been farming for more than 35 years. He began working as a strawberry picker in 1967 and learned to farm on his own after the company provided his family 2.5 acres of land for sharecropping. After growing for this company for 12 years, Poli and his brother Gilberto decided to lease their own farm in Watsonville. They began in 1982 growing conventionally, but in response to market demand converted 5 trial acres to organic. The organic produce sold so well they eventually decided to transition the entire 22-acre farm in Royal Oaks to organic.
Today, Yerena Farms is operated with the help of Poli’s wife Silvia, his children, and a small team of full time employees. They have been selling certified organic strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, squash and squash blossoms directly to their customers at farmers markets for two decades. It’s a tough job, Poli explains, but he works the land because he loves it. “We are a different breed. Not everyone is made for this work. If it is cold, we go out to work. If it rains, we go.” But, he explains, it’s all worth it when he sees the joy on the faces of his customers as they taste his deliciously sweet, traditionally-farmed berries.