Poblano Pride behind Sustainable Farming Program

Rogelio Bautista and his wife Yesenia at their farm, located in Goshen, Orange County, New York (Photo via El Diario)

Rogelio Bautista and his wife Yesenia at their farm, located in Goshen, Orange County, New York (Photo via El Diario)

“¡Olé! 5 de Mayo’s almost here & we’re excited to partner with @bronxhotsauce for a spicy themed Bronx Box,” posted the Bronx Box team on Instagram to introduce their special offers as part of this day on which Mexican traditions are celebrated.

Their festive box includes a jar of Red Hibiscus Bakery’s Spicy Strawberry Jam, a bottle of NY Chup’s Habanero Ketchup, a pouch of Sustainable Snacks made by Smoky Maple Pecans, all Bronx-made, as well as a bottle of The Bronx Hot Sauce, the gourmet product created through a collaboration between the GrowNYC initiative and renowned Filipino chef King Phojanakong’s Small Axe Peppers company.

After evaluating several botanical, agricultural and productivity possibilities, the creators of The Bronx Hot Sauce agreed that the base formula would contain serrano chiles, which pack more heat than poblanos but less than habaneros.

The product’s life cycle is established by the community’s: GrowNYC donates and provides seeds to Bronx community gardens every spring, and the Bronx Green-Up program provides technical support and coordinates the collection of the crops during harvest season.

The process is made possible by, among others, a distinguished native son of Puebla, Mexico, named Rogelio Bautista. The farmer and his wife Yesenia own the R&R Produce farm located in Goshen, in New York’s Orange County, where they plan part of the serrano chiles used to prepare the sauce. His journey is seen as an example of entrepreneurship, an endeavor that requires hard work, a clear vision, seizing opportunity and also taking risks to be successful.

Rogelio was born and raised in a small town called Chila de las Flores. “My grandparents were farmers, and I remember that I would help them plant corn, tomatoes and chiles. Mexico was changing a lot so, as a teenager, I came to the United States to live with my uncle and aunt and to find steady work,” he said.

He soon found a job at a farm planting onions six to seven days per week. Although it was hard, he enjoyed it. That is where Rogelio met his now-wife, Yesenia, who worked on the same farm in the packing warehouse. Two years later, they married and had their first son, Rogelio Jr. They worked there for four more years, but soon realized that their minimum wage would not be enough to sustain their family.

The couple branched out in 2007 by buying a piece of land, and started selling their own produce. In testimony he offered in front of a lender who helped them buy a refrigerated truck to carry their vegetables to businesses and markets, Rogelio admitted that he and his wife had to overcome a number of obstacles including inexperience, but particularly of a cultural nature.

In September 2011, their business ‒ called R&R Produce ‒ was hit hard by Hurricane Irene. The storm destroyed 90 percent of their crops, and they were forced to close the farm for the rest of the year. It took three years to fully recover but, when they finally we able to pull through, the couple began taking part on initiatives that have allowed them to expand their business, not only through direct sales but now by selling to restaurants. “That allows me to spend more time at the farm with my family instead of having to drive into the city every day.”

GrowNYC, a New York City sustainability initiative directed at producers and consumers, has been instrumental to the expansion of the Bautistas’ business and to their personal growth as well. After Irene, the program gave the owners a hand by hiring them to deliver produce orders, and this led to meeting a new customer to whom he began supplying kale.

Additionally, the couple received training through the New Farmer Development Project’s La Nueva Siembra ‒ “The New Seed” ‒ business course and guidance from the FARMroots Beginning Farmer Program. All this education allowed them to design their business and marketing plans.

In 2014, after taking part in these assistance programs, R&R Produce reported a 130-percent growth in total sales, signifying 60 percent more net earnings.

At R&R Produce ‒ which spans over 26-acres ‒ the seeds for this year’s onions, kale, cabbage, beets, carrots, cilantro, parsley and scallions were recently planted. Chiles ‒ including the poblano, banana, habanero and jalapeño varieties ‒ will be sowed between May 20 and 25.

The farm’s name, R&R, was chosen by Rogelio and his 8-year-old son, Rogelio Jr. He and Yesenia also have an 11-year-old girl and another boy, who is 4.

“I try to teach them the basics of working the land. I’d like them to go to school, to have a profession, because this is hard work, but I’d also want one of them to follow our steps into agriculture and become a professional at it,” said Rogelio.

Some of his wife’s relatives, who are also farmers, are helping out with the field work. The couple’s business plan focuses on selling their products within a 20-mile radius. They have stopped selling at green markets for a simple reason: They want to be present on the farm and with their children.

Their connection with Puebla, where Rogelio’s father lives, remains strong. Recently, the farmer was able to go back to his native country for the first time in more than 13 years. The intense family reunion simultaneously revived his homesickness and made him feel strange.

Still, although he insisted that he is not fussy about food, Rogelio said that it is great to have a good plate of mole made by his wife once in a while.

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