Lifestyles

Story published: 09-10-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Diaz enjoys freedom of farming his own way


Freedom is important to José Diaz. He raises his chickens free on his farm and his vegetables free of chemicals.

Diaz also likes the freedom he has found in the U.S. to earn a living on his own land, not squeezed by the crowding and competition of his homeland.

Growing up in Carretero, Mexico, Diaz would help his father grow vegetables and care for their goats, horses and donkey.

Diaz later moved to the United States, where he established legal residency in 1987.

“I like to work here,” says Diaz. “It’s easier. It’s easier for me. You can work very hard but make little in Mexico – $10 a day. I didn’t work there for very long … Too many people and not many jobs.”

After picking oranges in Florida, Diaz moved to the Tri-Cities area where he has worked at a number of jobs, including Scott’s farms in Unicoi to outdoor maintenance at the Johnson City Mall, but his passion is for farming, and in 1995 he purchased his own farm in Jonesborough.

“I raise animals,” says Diaz, “goats and chickens. And I grow vegetables. The goats are Nubians for milk and meat. Eat them. Hamburgers. I sell to people direct from the farm. I have 20 goats. I had to raise less goats to do the vegetables, because they keep me really busy.”

Diaz also grows corn, onions, beans, cilantro, squash and butternut squash. Instead of using chemicals or sprays on his plants, he uses the manure of his goats as fertilizer for some of his vegetables.

“I talked to a lady the other day and she said, ‘How much are your beans?’ And I said, ‘$50 a bushel.’ She said, ‘Over there, they’re $36.’ And I said, ‘Well, mine don’t have chemicals.’ She said, ‘Well, that doesn’t matter. They’re all the same. Chemicals don’t matter.’ Well, they do to me. I don’t want to chemical myself to death.”

While Diaz doesn’t make a lot of money from farming, he enjoys his work and raises organic crops for his own health, as well as the well-being of his customers. “I’m happy to do it as long as I can,” he says.

“People talk about, ‘You won’t get rich.’ I’ve never been rich. I don’t worry about it,” Diaz said. “I like to work with animals.”

“I’m good with my hands,” he added, “but I’m not a mechanic. I can break a car. Farming keeps me healthy. I feel good about it. You’ve just got to get in there and do it. A lot of people don’t like this life, but I do.”

Diaz raises many of the vegetables and animals that he raised while living in Mexico.

“We would raise corn and squash and goats,” Diaz says. “We would make cheese. My mother would make the cheese. We would work with the animals and she would make the cheese. It’s a lot of work. People would say, ‘Well, that little piece of cheese is expensive.’ Yeah. It’s a lot of work”

While Diaz primarily raises his goats for meat, he also uses their milk for his calves and pigs, as well as in “my own half-and-half.”

Diaz has 175 free-range chickens that live on his farm. Because they are free-range, Diaz often has to hunt for the chickens’ nests and eggs.

“[My chickens] are loose from the morning all the way to 7:30 at night,” says Diaz. “They run around out there and they’re happy chickens. Right now I have 100 little and 75 big ones — the ones that lay the eggs.

“They lay all over the place. Sometimes they hide eggs from me.

“There was one time for one or two weeks I couldn’t find them. I didn’t have eggs to bring to the market because they were hiding them.

“Then one day I found three nests with 22 eggs in each place. After they lay some eggs in the nest, they go and make a new one. Chickens are funny.”

After having raised vegetables for most of his life, Diaz has learned that there isn’t always a strong correlation between hard work and good crops.

He accepts this as a fact of life.

“I stay very busy all the time. Sometimes things work, and sometimes they do nothing.

“Sometimes you plant something and take good care of it and it won’t grow. Something you don’t think you care too much, it grows real nice.

“This happens. It’s in the farm.

“People tell me, ‘You aren’t going to get rich.’ But I say, ‘I eat well. I eat good.’”

Meet Diaz and find his free-range eggs and produce at the Jonesborough Farmers Market.

On Saturday he will have one his Mexican specialties, tomatillos.