Know Your Farmer: Poli Yerena, at Heart of the City Farmers Market

: Poli Yerena

Farm location: Watsonville

What time he woke up this morning: 3:15

Six days a week, Apolinar (“Poli”) Yerena and his wife drive from their 22-acre, certified organic farm in Watsonville, making deliveries on their way to their stand at the Ferry Building Farmers Market or Heart of the City, in Civic Center. Today, they arrived at 8 a.m., after making four or five deliveries en route. The drive home is much tougher, though.

“We go back, it takes three hours because of the traffic. We’re done at 11 p.m., every day,” Yerena told SF Weekly.

[jump] Mondays are their day “off,” given over to getting materials for the farm, and doing paperwork. Cultivating strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, squash and other crops, their growing season is very long, running from early March through November.

“And then we have to start planting again for the next season,” Yerena said. “When you see everything on the table, it’s a lot of effort going on.”

Born in the central Mexican state of Jalisco, Yerena has been a farmer since he was 18 years old. The area where he grew up, about 45 miles from Guadalajara, has seen a lot of American agribusiness move in, particularly Driscoll’s, spurring him to move to Monterey County.

As harvesting berries is back-breaking labor, even by the standards of farming, Yerena is experiencing a major labor shortage on his farm. On top of that, he and his wife have their hands full under the umbrella at UN Plaza. Beyond selling squash blossoms and mixed boxes of berries ($8 for three), they’re also babysitters.

“My daughter works from three to ten [p.m.] and she lives here in SF, so we take care of her babies. Her husband leaves at four, and he’ll pick them up,” he says, laughing in a grandfatherly way at the squirming toddlers near the van.

Just as our conversation wraps up, a well-dressed woman asks if the blackberries are sweet at this point in the season.

“Muy dulces,” Yerena smiles. “You’ll see.”

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