Ecological Farming Association's Successful Farmer Award
I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Tony T. Azevedo and I am a second generation dairy farmer. I have been in the dairy and farming business since 1973 and an organic producer since 1995. Before making the transition to organics, I was a conventional dairy farmer but was not satisfied with the practices.
My father was an immigrant from the Azores Island of Portugal. He came to the Central San Joaquin Valley in 1948 at the age of 35... Seemingly late to start a new life but determined to create a better life for my sisters and eventually myself. Being a skilled cooper, or barrel maker, he soon found out that there wasn't much work in that trade. He went to work as a farm hand and gained the experience he needed to start his own dairy.
In 1951 he went out on his own with about 20 cows. Unfortunately, this land was located at the base of the Central San Joaquin Valley and was experiencing tremendous water mismanagement. His farm had many problems including, flooding, poor drainage, and a high content of alkaline. The alkaline was so prevalent that my sisters and I used to play in it and pretend it was snow. My father realized that he needed to control his own destiny. I remember him saying, “No one is going to fix up a farm for me to move onto.” Through proper drainage and irrigation practices he managed to revitalize this wasteland.
I remember as a young boy walking through pastures laden with clover and other lush grasses. His passion for grazing was phenomenal. He was renowned for his ability to know what to plant. In those days, you would call the local seed company and order the combination of pasture grasses you wanted to plant. Due to his successful mixes, many local farmers requested the seed mix that “Azevedo” was planting. The seed company called it “The Azevedo Mix”.
I married my high school sweetheart in 1970 and purchased the dairy from my father in 1973. I became very concerned about the factory minded farming that was consuming the central valley.
Our passion for antiques found us with an ever-growing collection of agricultural artifacts. In order to preserve our collections and share our enthusiasm with others, Carol and I built the Double T Ag Museum. It is a tribute to the farmers of the past that built this great way of life. Completely by accident it turned into a side business. Our ranch is host to many events every year; reunions, company picnics and weddings being the most popular.
This, for a time, was the only way we survived in the conventional dairy business. It was a pure act of God that I was contacted by Organic Valley. Dave Pinkham knocked on my door one day telling me the benefit of farming organically, not only financially but feeling good about what you were doing. George Siemon, CEO and one of the founding farmers of Organic Valley, is dedicated not only to family farms but to farming in conjunction with the environment. It was a long struggle to certify my herd and land. I was the first organic farmer in the San Joaquin Valley. Through these experiences I decided to be an ambassador for Organic Valley and have brought in over 40 farmers of varying crops.
Organics is basically four things; No antibiotics, No added hormones, No Pesticides and No GMO feed, (Genetically modified organisms).
Organic Valley helped educate me in sustainability and I, in return, transitioned many other farmers into organics. Through the efforts of EFA (Ecological Farming Association) we have opened our farm to student farmers that want to be organic and to the public to learn what organic farming is all about.
The disappointing thing is that my father died before he saw me return to his philosophy of farming. Today my mission is the same as Organic Valley’s, to educate people on the importance of eating organics. Not only because it’s good for you and the environment, but also because it supports and entire community of family farms.
Tony T. Azevedo