An Interview with Maria and Cornelio Huerta, LandPaths Family since 2008

With LandPaths, we love the sense of trust that comes with familiarity. Everyone knows each other here, and we are like family. So, every trip that we take makes us feel at home. It’s beautiful. I love it.  

This interview conversation was conducted in Spanish and has been translated to English. To read it in Spanish you can click the link at the top of this page.

How did you first get connected and what interested you in LandPaths? 

MARIA: We went to Bayer Farm with LandPaths for the first time 13 years ago because my son Daniel was really young, about eight months old. He is now almost 14. They did storytelling for young kids at Bayer Farm, and we had Leslie who was about three years old. When we got there, we sat next to the tree at the farm and we liked the atmosphere. Every week, Magdalena (former LandPaths staff member) told stories and we thought it was great. We were there the rest of the day, enjoying the garden. At that time, the space wasn’t like it is now, but the experience of being out in nature in a different environment was great. We liked it and we kept on going.

CORNELIO: Like my wife mentioned, the spaces for the community garden were not yet formed. All of us made those community gardens at that time. I don’t think any of the original helpers are still around except for me. The community garden has changed very much since then!

How does it feel to be a part of the work that LandPaths does?

CORNELIO: It’s great to be able to unite the community within families and get to know each other. The fact that I have a space [at Bayer Farm] that I cultivate, for many years now, has enabled me to inculcate our culture from where we are from to our kids. LandPaths has given us this.

MARIA: What LandPaths does is important, because they focus on getting families outside, like the name of the program says, Vamos Afuera. Because we, as Latinos, invest so much time into our jobs and we do not give much preference and time to rest and enjoy nature and all of its beauties that are here, where we live. I love this country for its landscapes and green areas. So much green! LandPaths offers to take us and our families to get to know these beautiful areas. I am very grateful for LandPaths because thanks to all of you, our children also have the love for nature. They have grown up with LandPaths. Daniel was only 8 months old! Practically – well literally – they have grown up there. 

Can you share more about the impact LandPaths has had on your children?

MARIA: Yes, absolutely. Thanks to LandPaths, they have love for nature. Whenever we have the opportunity, we go outside, we hike to a mountain, we are always outside. Leslie now wants to study science with a focus on the environment.

CORNELIO: One of the biggest impacts I saw was on my daughter Leslie. I also saw it with my son, Daniel. When we went camping at Point Reyes, your organization took us to get to know that area. And she loved it, we all loved it. On that trip, my daughter was even interviewed by the leader of programs at Point Reyes. She was asked where she got her liking for nature. And one of the things she said was that she’s thankful for LandPaths having an impact on her, for showing her nature and being able to contribute to it.

I thank LandPaths for giving me the opportunity to grow my vegetables and teach the love of the land to my children so that they know where I come from and how vegetables are grown. You don’t just come and grab the tomato from the store and expect that it grew out of nothing. There is a big process behind it, which we learn here at the community gardens. And now I am able to give this knowledge to my kids.

MARIA: Thanks to this opportunity, now my son, Daniel, likes agriculture. He sows any little thing that has seeds. If I’m chopping chili peppers, he sees the seeds and says, “Mom, can I plant those seeds?” I say, “Yes grab them.” Once at Bayer Farm, he grabbed a dying plant, put it in a pot and revived it; from it being withered, he revived it. And he says “it feels good to be able to revive the plants after they are almost dead.” And now he says that one day he wants to have a ranch. Leslie wants to study natural science and Daniel wants to have a ranch to grow crops.

How much different was Sonoma County 25 years ago, in terms of nature-based programs, and opportunities for the community? How do you think it has changed over the years?

MARIA: Well, I never knew about the different nature areas in our county until I began going out with LandPaths, and we have been here for over 20 years. I simply wasn’t aware of these places. Ever since we started with LandPaths, we now look at our area with a different lens since we are now acquainted with our surroundings much more. The opportunities to go outside as a family, and to be guided by organizations like LandPaths weren’t easily accessible, if there were any. So, at that time, we simply did not know of places, and we remained in our usual spots. So, thanks to LandPaths, families have the opportunity to get outside and get to know our lands, and now we can say, “I know Sonoma County.”

What keeps each of you participating in programs with LandPaths? 

CORNELIO: Well, as I have said, I have love for Earth. I come from a place where my father was a campesino his entire life, and still is today. He is 82 years old and continues to work on his parcel of land. When I was a boy, he taught me, and he inculcated the working principles that come with being on the land. LandPaths allows me to continue working on a small piece of land where I have the opportunity to show my kids the way I grew up and where I came from. I was raised in a very rural area, and I can now show them how to grow vegetables without pesticides like I did in my hometown. What I also like are the trips. It is great visiting and knowing new places and people. As well as learning about these people and their ideas, thoughts, and what they do, the fauna and flora are also essential to me, and I love this.

MARIA: Another reason why we continue to be with LandPaths is because we love the sense of trust that comes with familiarity. Everyone knows each other here – we have known each other for years, and we are like family. So, every trip that we take makes us feel at home. I feel good. There’s going to be a trip. “Hey, let’s go!” It’s because we feel at home. It’s beautiful, I love it.

What is your wish for LandPaths’ future in regards to connections with nature and the programs? 

CORNELIO: To have more kayak trips on the river and programs that serve adolescents by focusing them on things that benefit them positively, instead of focusing on things that aren’t good, or that they know they shouldn’t be doing, especially in the late-teen years when they are getting close to being adults. More trips would be great, like trips to the snow. I would like to see how it would feel to camp in a place with snow. Or camping near the ocean.

Which is your favorite LandPaths’ preserve or place to visit? 

MARIA: Rancho Mark West. We love that one. Out of the gardens, Bayer Farm is our second home. For everything we’re like, “take me to Bayer Farm”. And off we all go to Bayer Farm.

CORNELIO: Whenever I’m bored at home and want to go outside, I go to Bayer Farm. I also like the cabin at Riddell Preserve. I like when they do the mushroom foraging there. I also like that one because it is in an open forest setting that makes it perfect for these kinds of foraging activities.

Why do you feel that Bayer Farm stands out from other community gardens?

MARIA: I think it’s the community. The people are really united and there is a lot of participation. Bayer Farm has a really strong welcoming feeling. One feels super comfortable there. People are very polite, united, and respectful. They are willing to help other people. A person can find everything there.

CORNELIO: LandPaths knew how to gather families at Bayer Farm and maintain them in the circle. Community gardens usually have members that become garden neighbors due to having other people tend their garden area on both sides of your area. If anyone needs any tool, like a shovel, we share it. There is a respect and connection between people. LandPaths somehow knew how to set the rules as they are, so that there is respect between each family and everyone is integrated. Once a woman arrived there who mentioned that she was in need of food. They directed her to other organizations that would help more. And I said, “here you take what you need” and we offered her the fruits we had grown.

If you could share some of your fondest memories as a family or with a group with us, which moments stand out? 

MARIA: There are several, but the trip we took to Yosemite left an impact on the whole family. We had never been there. Even my parents went.

CORNELIO: One of the trips that struck me the most was the Point Reyes camp. There was no technology, no light in the cabins, no telephone. And you have to make campfires to warm up! Yosemite was a very beautiful experience, and a great memory because we were cooking among the pines. There were some bears out there. My father-in-law likes to play the guitar and at night we were singing songs from Pedro Infante’s era. Everyone sang with him and we bonded through singing. It was a great moment.

MARIA: Every outing has left us with something. Once, we went to the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and we just stood, admiring the birds chirping and flying along. We had never been there, yet it is so close. Every outing has its special touch.

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