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Texas News

Once a laborer, this immigrant now owns his farm. He and his daughter are among few Hispanic farmers in Texas.

FLOYDADA, Texas — When Arnaldo Serrato thought about prosperity and freedom working in Mexico, the small town of Floydada always came to mind.

While his calloused hands were fixated on factory work that brought in just enough to make ends meet, he pictured the land he could cultivate in the agricultural-rich community south of the Panhandle. He imagined the family he could have with his wife, Juana, who was already in Floydada on a work visa.

It was 1995, and Serrato couldn’t have known what else was waiting 828 miles away — a long-lasting marriage, land that was previously just dirt and cotton becoming more meaningful since it was his own, and three ambitious daughters.

One of those daughters gave him a grandson, who Arnaldo dreamed would take over his legacy. But it’s his youngest daughter, Yuleida, who wants to be the one following in his mud-tracked footsteps.

After seeing her determination all her life, Arnaldo isn’t surprised.

Now together and individually, Arnaldo and Yuleida are in uncharted territory by running their own land.

Yuleida Serrato holds the door of a new H-310 John Deere tractor for her father, Amaldo Serrato. The Serratos bought the tractor to use in their hay business. he Serrato family own and run their multigenerational family farm in and around Floydada. Amado Serrato, his wife and father came to the United States, where they and their American born kids have created a successful agricultural business.
Yuleida Serrato holds the door of a new H-310 John Deere tractor for her father, Arnaldo Serrato. The Serratos bought the tractor to use in their hay business. Credit: Mark Rogers for The Texas Tribune

There’s a reason why when people think of Texas farmers, they picture an older white man climbing out of a big pickup truck in a cowboy hat, blue jeans and dirty boots. The most recent agriculture census, completed in 2017, shows that is typically the case. The number of white primary producers on Texas farms far outweighed Hispanic producers — 236,000 to 25,600.

That makes the Serratos part of the 10% that is the exception.

Arnaldo went from being another farmhand in the fields to owning the ground he walks on. Yuleida wants to take on that legacy and ensure a person of color is part of the fabric that weaves together farming in West Texas.

Yuleida fits into an even smaller demographic — the last farm census shows there are just over 9,000 hispanic, female primary producers in Texas, and only 290 women farming in Floyd County, which includes Floydada, in general.

“I want to start my homestead,” said Yuleida. “Why not?”

Yuleida wants to build up their machinery and equipment inventory, but the 26-year-old has had trouble securing USDA loans. It doesn’t stop her from applying every chance she gets, as she says she’s overcome bigger problems as first-generation children in America.

At first glance, Yuleida might not look like your typical farmer. As she runs around the event center she co-owns with her sisters, her long, colorful nails direct organizers. Her striking, dark hair flows over a purple silk blouse. The glint of a gold necklace emblazoned with her name flickers.

It’s not until you get to her steel-toed work boots — originally black, before pesticide sprays turned the tips a washed green — that the farmer in her shows more.

From left, Amaldo Serrato talks about eventually turning over his successful family business to his daughter, Yuleida Serrato. The Serrato family own and run their multigenerational family farm in and around Floydada. Amado Serrato, his wife and father came to the United States, where they and their American born kids have created a successful agricultural business.
Yuleida Serrato, right, listens to her father, Arnaldo Serrato, as he answers questions during an interview Oct. 18. Credit: Mark Rogers for The Texas Tribune

“I enjoy being alone in the field and I love nature, so I’ve grown to love it,” Yuleida said. “My sisters make fun of me for saying stuff like that.”

The confident Floydada native has taken on the bulk share of running the venue — aptly named Serrato Sisters. Yelitza can get busy with kids and her other business, and Yelena attends the University of Texas.

Yuleida got that determination from her dad, Arnaldo.

Arnaldo’s work ethic was formed during his childhood in Tamaulipas. He felt it was his duty to provide as the oldest. He handpicked chile pequin, a very hot pepper, and sold bags of it with his younger brother near a highway.

That’s how Arnaldo got by for much of his life — scraping together whatever earnings he could, hoping his work ethic would eventually pay off. Then one day, while he was visiting Juana in Floydada, Arnaldo wanted to stay. He found an employer in Lockney, whose family sponsored his work visa. This allowed him to work and live in the country legally, before officially becoming a U.S. citizen in 2005.

The American dream Arnaldo imagined back in Mexico did not come true right away. His biweekly income dropped from $600 to $200.

He only spoke Spanish, so it was hard talking and reading. Despite his reunion with his wife, he felt isolated away from his siblings. Culture shock took hold.

When he became a farmhand for the Marble brothers, two well-known farmers in the area, things began to change.

For years, Arnaldo watched over their land for days on end — in the heat during planting season and timing up the first freeze with harvest — and they rewarded his hard work. They helped him retain his work visa, and later, a loan to buy his own cows. They introduced him to more people in the community, and when one of the Marble brothers wanted to retire, he entrusted Arnaldo to take on all of their farms.

“It’s a privilege to know that not only are there good people out there, but there’s people willing to help out a Hispanic man,” Arnaldo said.

The business became a family affair. Arnaldo’s three daughters worked on the farm, translated for him, and helped both parents study for citizenship tests. Yuleida took a liking to the farm work the most.

As first generation children in a new town, there were challenges. They faced language barriers and economic hardship, but Yuleida says her parents made sure the girls had everything they needed. It’s a point of pride for her — they found their way out and above the difficulties.

Like her father, Yuleida spent some of her time at work as a young woman dreaming of a different future. After she graduated high school, Yuleida went to a cosmetology school in Austin. Her love of fashion partially inspired her move — she envisioned herself traveling to the iconic runway shows and collecting couture items all over the world.

She realized later that cosmetology and big city life wasn’t for her, and went home to Floydada. And she rediscovered her love of farming.

“I just realized that if I start, my family and siblings survive, the family business continues, and I could live out my dreams,” Yuleida said.

She learned how to maneuver the planting machinery on the farm. She got her private and commercial pesticide licenses and started a business. She helped with payroll and still handles the paperwork for her dad’s business.

From left, Yuleida Serrato and her father, Amaldo Serrato look over some of the hay from the hay bales that will eventually be sold. The Serrato family own and run their multigenerational family farm in and around Floydada. Amado Serrato, his wife and father came to the United States, where they and their American born kids have created a successful agricultural business.
Yuleida Serrato, left, and her father Arnaldo Serrato look over bales of hay waiting to be sold on their family farm. In 2022, Yuleida was able to purchase her own farmland, becoming one of just over 9,000 hispanic, female primary producers in Texas, and one of only 290 women farming in Floyd County. Credit: Mark Rogers for The Texas Tribune

In 2021, she saw an opportunity for herself — 320 non-irrigated acres that were manageable, aside from depending solely on rainfall in a drought-ridden area. She grew just enough cotton in that first year to buy the property in 2022.

If her other obligations weren’t enough, there is also the event center. It’s available for organizations to host events, workshops, weddings and everything in between. In some cases, such as funerals, they won’t charge. Yuleida says it’s how they can return the support and love the community of Floydada has given their family over the years.

“My grandfather came here as a labor worker in the 50s with nothing and without knowing anyone,” Yuleida said, talking about her mom’s father who was a Bracero, which was a program the U.S. had with Mexico to stem labor shortages with temporary laborers. “He established himself here, my dad did the same, so it’s important that my sisters and I establish ourselves and revive the town.”

And like her dad, she prides herself on being busy because it helps her live other dreams too. She went to New York Fashion Week this year and Hollywood before harvest season.

“I feel like if I can be dedicated to five different jobs, why not?” Yuleida said. “These were things that our ancestors could have never dreamed of.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/12/21/hispanic-farmers-texas/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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