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Edible Monterey Bay publishes Lupita Quintero: The Unexpected Farmer

EDIBLE NOTABLES | Lupita Quintero | by Patrice Vecchione

Farming was not her first career, but it’s a good fit.

The unexpected farmer

When shopping at the Seaside Farmers Market one Thursday afternoon, trying to decide what to make for dinner, the filigreed heads of lettuces and rainbow chard at Lupita Quintero’s stand caught my eye. But there was something more than her vegetables and bright orange marigolds that drew me near.

Before approaching, I stood watching as Lupita welcomed each shopper as though they were friends she’d not seen in far too long. Though we’d never met, that’s how she greeted me, too. With a twinkle in her brown eyes conveying an enthusiasm for life, Lupita’s beautiful. She’s effervescent without being bubbly, and her laughter is infectious. I couldn’t help myself from buying not one, but three large bunches of marigolds, lettuce for several salads and carrots enough for soup.

The next time I went to her market booth, she was speaking in Spanish to another woman, said hello to me by name and kindly switched to English. They were talking about the shopper’s new business—a food truck. Lupita told her how important it is to serve organic. “Come to my farm when you are ready,” she told her. “You can buy the vegetables you want for whatever you can afford to pay.” Lupita is not only magnetic, she’s also generous.

On just one acre of land in San Juan Bautista, Lupita grows chard, lettuce, kale, marigolds and carrots, as well as broccolini, red cabbage, Napa cabbage and strawberries, depending on the season. “A little bit of everything,” she says.

But it wasn’t always this way. Though farming’s in her blood, Lupita had an entirely different life—or lives—before putting her hands in the soil and later pulling carrots from it.

“I was an industrial engineer in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico where, in the late 1980s into the ’90s, I worked for a garage door opener manufacturer,” she says. “I’d graduated from engineering school where I was the only woman among 51 men.”

And then her husband, an engineer also, was offered a job in San Diego.

“I didn’t want to go! We never had plans to move to the other side.” She thought they had a future in Mexico. “But my husband said, ‘Give me one year,’ so I said, ‘Okay.’ That was 25 years ago. Coming to the U.S. changed our lives. Here there is more opportunity, not only for me, but better education for my children. Here it’s better for women, and I have a daughter. I have no regrets about coming. My husband has a master’s degree now, that we’re still paying for. It’s a privilege to have the opportunities that we have here.”

She went to school to learn English while her children were in school. “After four years, once my English was good enough, I went to community college.”

Eventually her family relocated to Santa Cruz County. “I had a daycare center in my home,” and then she worked as a preschool teacher. “Everything was perfect until COVID came.”

She felt discouraged, but, clearly, they didn’t know Lupita’s strength and determination.

Lupita Quintero and Luna Dorada Organic Farm can be found at the Seaside Farmers Market Thursdays and at markets in San Francisco.

Her husband asked, “Is there something you would like to do, something you would like to learn?” He was surprised when she replied, “Agriculture.” Lupita enrolled in an ag program, where she was stimulated and excited by what she was learning. However, there were some people in her life who doubted her new direction. They wondered if she was too old to become a farmer, if the equipment she’d be working with would be too heavy. She felt discouraged, but, clearly, they didn’t know Lupita’s strength and determination. “I have good friends, and my husband said, ‘We are equal. You have the same rights. Don’t stop! Don’t set limits.’”

That wasn’t the only thing holding Lupita back. She was hindered also by societal expectations, “In my culture, women of my age should not be doing this. You can see women at 65 working in the fields, picking strawberries, cleaning houses, and it’s fine.” But there isn’t support for women Lupita’s age—she’s 58—to become entrepreneurs, and that weighed on her. How true for any of us who step beyond the expectations—spoken or unspoken— that have been set for us. Not even this could stop her desire, curiosity and determination.

“Now I have my own tractors,” she says, excitedly. “I have money to buy seeds. I make money and spend money on the farm.” Her plan is to rent another two or three acres. “When I get more land, I’m going to be ready to grow more. I’m going to have basil, oregano, radishes and more flowers.”

And then there’s earning a living as a new farmer—a challenging thing to do. A friend of Lupita told her, “I want to see you making money.” Lupita held up her hands to me: “Do you think it’s a hobby when you see my hands in bad shape? I do need the money but I want to learn. The money will come, I think. If I have success, it will be good.”

She continues, “The most important part, when I grow the flowers, the hummingbirds, the monarchs are all around. It’s amazing how much we can learn from nature.” She recalls an experience last summer. Upon returning to her farm after being away for a few days, she was surprised to see her first dinner-platesized dahlia. “It’s huge! It’s huge! This is the emotional part of agriculture.”

Then Lupita got quiet. She looked off into the distance, back in time, to a memory of her grandfather who was still farming when he was in his early 90s. “He was Yaqui from Sonora. My grandfather used to talk to the wind and to the sky, asking for water for the plants, for better weather. I never liked when he did that. But now, when it’s raining, I say, “God, please stop the rain!” Lupita leaned into her laughter, and said, “I’m becoming my grandfather!”


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