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Chicano Sol's Sunny Outlook on Farming

Posted by Christina Kostelecky at Sep 18, 2017 12:15 PM |
In October of 2009, as a tribute to her husband’s Mexican heritage and with a respectful bow to the essential role the sun plays in growing plants, Jarrah and Agustin Cernas’ “Chicano Sol” began to shine....
Chicano Sol's Sunny Outlook on Farming

A lovely harvest at Chicano Sol

In October of 2009, as a tribute to her husband’s Mexican heritage and with a respectful bow to the essential role the sun plays in growing plants, Jarrah and Agustin Cernas’ “Chicano Sol” began to shine.

To those who don’t know Chicano Sol, it’s a small, family-owned certified organic vegetable farm located in Blaine, Pennsylvania. To those who know Jarrah Cernas, Chicano Sol is a lifestyle. What began with the purchase of seven flat acres has expanded to approximately 17 acres - it’s biggest growth spurt occurring this year with 10 additional acres of pastured, rolling land acquired from the farmer across the road.

Throughout her high school and college years, Jarrah worked on and off at a local organic farm about 5 miles from where Chicano Sol now sits. Among many other farming skills she honed, Jarrah became an expert in greenhouse planting and ultimately assumed the role of Packhouse Manager. But looking back now Jarrah freely admits that nothing adequately prepared her for the role of a farmer.

While raising pastured poultry was Chicano Sol’s foray into farming, Jarrah realized that as her family began to grow, other things had to change as well.  She turned her efforts to growing organic produce exclusively. She didn’t expand into organic mind you, she went for the gold right out of the gate.

What began on New Year’s Day in 2011 as their first seeding in the greenhouses at Chicano Sol has steadily grown and blossomed to now include operating three Farmers Markets and one Farm Stand where they run their year round Flex CSA program; and selling to the Tuscarora Organic Growers Co-Op who distributes their bounty to local restaurants.

ChicanoSol_Agustin_EvinWhile farming is exceptionally hard work, Jarrah loves the fact that this lifestyle affords her the opportunity to spend time with her two boys, Austin, 7 and Evin, 5. She beamed with satisfaction when she recently heard her youngest son lament that his friends don’t grow up on a farm. She knows that Chicano Sol is instilling in her children a respect for food, for nature, and for the land as it teaches life’s lessons every step of the way.

Jarrah will confess, however, that while spending time with her children is one of her greatest joys of farming, it is also one of her greatest challenges. Constant hard work isn’t the traditional picture of “family time” so the challenge comes in making their time together creative and fun. She considers that a 9 to 5 job would be an easier life for her children as they become adults, but of course she’ll leave that decision up to them. For now, Jarrah knows that she is building a legacy with Chicano Sol that she can pass down to the next generation.

Chicano Sol-GreensAnother passion that drives Jarrah is that she knows with Chicano Sol she is feeding people year round with real food; real organic food, replete with vitamins, minerals, good energy and love. The nutrient-rich spring microgreens, the vibrant summer peppers and tomatoes, the hearty autumn butternut and acorn squash and the winter root crops that Chicano Sol offers far exceed the typical food people buy in our grocery store world. Chicano Sol’s produce is a labor of love, a spirit that Jarrah plants along with the seeds. With a background in nursing, Jarrah knows the power of whole food and the vital impact it has on people’s health. Whether as a nurse or a farmer, Jarrah dives in heart and soul to fulfill her life’s mission of helping people.

Jarrah credits her membership in PASA and its invaluable network of resources as a primary reason for the success of Chicano Sol. According to Jarrah, it was her respect for the PASA team and their solid guidance that motivated her to participate in the PASA Soil Health Benchmark Study. The study combines lab soil tests from the Cornell Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health with data from farm management records to help PASA farmers find opportunities to improve soil health. Participation in the study not only provides Jarrah with detailed findings about Chicano Sol’s soil, but also affords her tailored advice and proposed solutions for the farm to thrive; a far cry from the typical one-page data printout merely showing percentages of soil components she’s used to seeing.

In light of insights from the Soil Health Benchmark Study and the Cornell lab results, Jarrah and Agustin have fortified their efforts to plant cover crops. Although Chicano Sol is new to the study, Jarrah is already reaping the benefits in the recent yields at the farm. She also takes note of the positive results gleaned from the network of other farmers who also participated in the study. As Jarrah continues to implement more suggestions from the Benchmark Study and the participating farmers, she excitedly waits to see more yields. You can learn more about this research at PASA’s 3rd annual Soil Health Conference on Thursday, September 28th at Spiral Path Farm, near Loysville, PA.

Earlier this year, Chicano Sol proudly received its first ever food safety certification through the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture as a GAP (Good Agriculture Practices) farm. This certification is a very important step for a small family farm in light of all the new food safety laws. While it was a lot of paperwork, and will require more in-depth record keeping, Jarrah sees this certification as a pivotal step as Chicano Sol moves toward expanding into the wholesale world. It is yet another confirmation to the public, and to Jarrah herself, that she is providing the freshest and most wholesome food that she can, all of which culminates in a life’s mission and in a good day’s work.

By Lisa Grazan, guest writer

Lisa Grazan--Lisa Grazan is an attorney, writer and natural health advocate. Her interests include organic farming and sustainable agriculture. Lisa holds an ND (Doctor of Naturopathy) degree and is a Certified Natural Health Professional. She has extensively studied the influence proper diet and nutrition have in reversing disease. Her writing, which has also appeared in the BuyLocalPA blog and The Ayurveda Journal of Health, often focuses on alternative medicine and the healing power of food.


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