Campus: Monterey Bay - July 6, 2007

Back in the fields, with a degree
CSUMB grad is the face of a healthy eating campaign

Juan Perez was a high school student when his father gave him a choice: he could go to college or work in the fields.

He had experience toiling in the raspberry fields on his family’s leased land and knew that was hard work. College sounded like a better bet.

In 2001, he started school at California State University, Monterey Bay. The 23-year-old graduated in May with a degree in Earth Systems Science and Policy. Now, Juan is not only back in the business he thought he had escaped, but he’s also one of the most visible faces in local agriculture as the featured farmer in the “social advertising” campaign of Steps to a Healthier Salinas, a program of the Monterey County Health Department to promote exercise and healthy eating.

He’s all over newspapers and television. “Juan is a central part of the social marketing campaign in print, radio and TV,” said David Lees, coordinator of the campaign. “He’s a great guy, wonderful to work with, and a real champion for the community.”

A combination of his classroom work on sustainable agriculture and an internship with the Agricultural Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) near Salinas got him hooked on farming. After graduating from the ALBA program, he and his father leased an acre of land. Their operation has since doubled in size and they’re raising a variety of vegetables and herbs. They sell at farmers markets and make their own Community Supported Agriculture boxes, which they deliver to homes in Salinas and on the Monterey Peninsula.

Juan thinks it’s ironic that he’s back doing work he thought he didn’t want any part of. “It’s kind of weird,” he said. “I tried to do something else, but . . . I guess it’s destiny. I belong in the fields.”

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