For Elsa Torres, farming is more than just a job or a livelihood. It’s an inspiration.
Ever since she was a young girl, Elsa can remember working in orchard fields with her father, Jose Torres. It was something she loved and cherished. “My father is the person I admire the most,” said Elsa. “He came from Mexico with nothing and for 25 years he worked on an orchard that he now owns. He didn’t start out with a formal education. But now he’s a business owner. He’s an example of the American dream and how someone who works hard can become a success.”
In 2009, when the opportunity came to purchase that orchard Jose bought the land. Elsa knew she could do the same someday so that her two children could experience the joy she had growing up on a farm.
“I love working out in the fields and the smell of fresh cut grass while trees are blooming,” said Elsa, who now has her own family and works a full-time job but still helps her father by managing the financial side of his orchard business. “It’s busy, but you gain a sense of appreciation for growing things.”
So a year ago, when she stumbled across a 50-acre corner lot loaded with fruit trees and wine grapes she knew it was her chance to become an entrepreneur. But she couldn’t tell if that particular Wapato, Washington property was up for sale. She went home and called a realtor to see if any farm property in the area was available.
“The realtor said he had one going on the market and it had everything we wanted, fruit trees, grape vines and room for expansion. He told me the name of the road and it was the same 50-acre corner lot,” said Elsa. “That’s when I knew it was meant to be.”
Like many beginning farmers, Elsa found it difficult to obtain financing to buy the land. After being turned down for a loan by five different banks, she contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) for help.
“Elsa was unable to secure financing from a private agricultural lender because she lacked the capital needed for the required down payment,” said Scott Smith, farm loan officer with the Yakima County FSA office in Washington State. “Through the FSA direct farm ownership loan program, we were able to provide the needed financing to allow her to purchase a farm.”
The direct farm ownership loan program provides farmers and ranchers the opportunity to purchase farmland, construct and repair buildings and make farm improvements with no required down payment and a maximum loan amount of $300,000. In fiscal year 2013, FSA obligated 2,563 direct farm ownership loans totaling more than $448 million.
Elsa also received help from the Northwest Farm Credit Service’s Jumpstart program. Now, she owns her own farm, is selling grapes to a local winery and thinking about expanding her operation. For now, Elsa is happy to grow into her own and continue the family orchard business.
“It’s a total family operation. My husband, dad, brother, nephew and sister all help out,” said Elsa. “It’s busy, but we will be just fine.”
To learn more about how USDA helps new farmers, visit www.usda.gov/newfarmers. For more information on FSA farm loans, visit www.fsa.usda.gov/farmloans or find your local FSA county office at http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/.