MILFORD, NJ---Sometimes Hector Perez’s day starts 2:30 a.m. in the morning and doesn’t end until 8:00 p.m. that night; up before dawn and working until dusk. Such is the life of a farmer.
Perez is the owner of Jersey Farm Produce, a Milford-based small business he started in 2009. No stranger to hard work, Perez can be found at the height of harvest loading up three trucks Tuesday thru Sunday with produce from his farmland to be sold at New York City farmer’s markets. The remainder of the day is spent working the land.
“I came to this country in 2001 from Mexico with a degree in Agriculture and little else,” said Perez. “I had to learn how to speak English and find work.” Over the years, he was able to find employment on farms in New York State and New Jersey. He even managed a 300 acre farm in Glen Gardner.
“I always had the desire to start my own my farm,” said Perez. “And then I learned about a local farmer who wanted to lease his farmland, I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity for me to get started.”
But like most small businesses starting out, Jersey Farm Produce needed some working capital to give the company a boost. “I went to a local bank and was turned down, because I was considered a start-up,” said Perez.
However, without his knowledge, the bank gave Perez’s name to the Regional Business Assistance Corporation, a U.S. Small Business Administration microlender. “You can imagine my surprise when Nathalia Giraldo, (RBAC’s director of finance) called me and asked me ‘How can I help you?’” said Perez. “Nathalia and William Pazmino (the director of RBAC) came out here and walked the land with me, asked me questions and showed a genuine interest in my business. Who does that?”
So after a few meetings, RBAC approved a $25,000 SBA microloan to help Perez buy his first truck and to help him with his working capital needs. Capital that is used to buy seeds for planting and plastic needed for the drip irrigation system that Perez utilizes to keep those crops growing.
According to SBA’s New Jersey District Director Al Titone, the SBA Microloan program provides loans up to $50,000 to help small businesses like Jersey Farm Produce start and expand their business.
“Microloans are available through certain nonprofit, community-based organizations like the Regional Business Assistance Corporation that have experience making capital available in smaller dollar amounts,” said Titone. “Sometimes a $25,000 microloan can jumpstart a business just as well as a larger commercial loan. Hector Perez and Jersey Farm Produce are a prime example of how a microloan can be a lifeline for a small business in search of capital.”
This year the SBA is on track to make 145 microloans for over $3.5 million to New Jersey small business owners.
Today, Jersey Farm Produce employs 14 people and leases a total of 48.5 acres of land. Forty five of those acres produce 35 vegetables and fruits that include broccoli, corn, eggplant, spinach, tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, peppers, onions, parsley, basil, blueberries, raspberries, watermelon and cantaloupe. Another 3.5 acres are dedicated to greenhouses that grow cut flowers and plants. During the winter months those greenhouses are used to grow vegetables.
“We are growing at 18 percent per year and now have three trucks going into New York City, and selling our produce at farmer’s markets,” said Perez “We do not spray greens, but we work closely with Rutgers University and have implemented their Integrate Pesticide Management plan for tomatoes peppers and fruit. Our trucks are not refrigerated, so whatever doesn’t get sold is donated to City Harvest and local churches.”
His plans for the immediate future are to pay off his loans on equipment and reduce his debt. “After that, I would like to concentrate on looking for property to purchase,” said Perez “It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to have my own farm. My grandfather was a farmer; it’s an honest living, I am working 90 hours a week, but at the end of the day it is very rewarding in so many ways.”
“Each year we have one shot to make that money,” said Perez. “We never finish the daily work, but we push hard every day until nature stops us.”
When the farming season comes to an end, Hector Perez says he shuts down and sleeps a full day. Then he begins to think about the next harvest. Such is the life of a successful farmer.