Young farmer embraces new ag era
Lena Xiong-Perez is a 28-year-old farmer with a message and a means to spread it.
Her family business, Humble Rice Farmer, has quickly amassed a Merced County following that includes a close friendship with Executive Chef Quentin of the El Capitan Hotel in Merced, buyers and sellers at regional markets, and a loyal community fanbase.
Through her work and communication via Instagram, Farmer Lena is now focused on educating younger generations on the value and importance of farming, the undoubtable shortage of young farmers, and the beauty that is rising above your struggles.
She has just finished giving her first-ever presentation at the Mainzer Cinema as part of Impact Merced’s “Tuesdays at the Mainzer.” At the event, she discussed the upbringing of Humble Rice Farmer and how it re-shaped everything in her life.
Humble Rice Farmer is based out of the Atwater-Winton area. Eucalyptus and orange trees, fields of fresh flowers and greenery, vegetables, fruits, baby ducks, chickens, a rooster, a cat, and several dogs make up the Humble Rice Farm.
Farmer Lena, her parents, sisters, and employed farmers are at the heart of the farms success. Everything is hand grown, raised, and picked on their farm.
“Humble Rice Farmer started from a tragedy,” Farmer Lena explained, not wanting to go into more detail, but acknowledging that a family tragedy had reshaped both her and her families lives. “We thought it was the end.”
The family, originally from the Merced area, moved to Sacramento right after, staying at another families farm.
“At the time we thought there was no hope so we moved,” she continued, explaining that during that time, her uncle, who was also a farmer, was able to share his skill and trade of farming with her.
“I was able to get 20 years of farming experience in just the one year that I was living with him.”
The family stayed in Sacramento for a little less than a year, from 2019-2020, before finally deciding to move back to the Central Valley.
“We didn’t think that we would return back to Merced. But in a weird way, it’s like the universe or God was like, ‘No there is something in Merced that I need you to do.’”
And so, the family moved back, bringing their roots with them — literally. Farmer Lena explained that her mother dug up the vegetation on their farm in Sacramento and threw everything into their vehicle with the intention of replanting it all back in the ground on their new farm.
“We replanted and what grew, grew, and whatever didn’t grow, we removed.”
Soon after, Farmer Lena created a profile on the social media site, Instagram, to advertise bouquets of their flowers for sale.
Their Instagram account, @humblericefarmer has now amassed over 5,000 followers in just two years and is still quickly growing.
“There are so many things that this business has done for not just my family and I but it’s also kind of created a different identity for Merced. And, that is exactly what I want to do.”
Farmer Lena dreams of a time when Merced County will be recognized for its agricultural efforts instead of the negative connotations many outsiders (and locals) associate the area with.
“When people hear Merced, I want them to automatically think FARMERS, FLOWERS, AGRICULTURE. That’s what these people are known for. We want to re-instill who farmers are and what they do for our communities.”
Farmer Lena emphasized that farmers and field workers are at the core of the agricultural success of the the Central Valley and still, more often than not, are severely overlooked and underappreciated.
“There is so much more to farming and to being a farmer. Not just flowers but food as well. There is a gap in the faming field right now, especially with people around my age. In the future, there is going to be a food problem. There is definitely going to be an agricultural problem.”
She continued by stating that the narrative around farm work needs to change in order for the food supply chain to continue flowing as it currently is. Older generations overwhelmingly are at the heart of current farming and once they are retired or passed on, there will simply not be enough people to fill the vacant roles they leave behind.
“We are feeding the world,” she explained. “Almonds in the Central Valley go to France and all parts of Europe. They travel more than I have.”
Farmer Lena hopes to have the space to provide educational seminars in the future to continue her work educating the youth in the importance of farming and to creative interactive spaces where people can pick as well as learn how to grow flowers and produce.
For more information on the farm, or to purchase flowers, you can message the farm through their Instagram at their handle: @humblericefarmer.