Making It Work: Young Riverside County farmer: ‘I love what I do’


Issue Date: October 25, 2017
By Kevin Hecteman
In college, Celeste Alonzo considered pursuing a career in sports business, but returned after graduation to her family’s Riverside County farm and says she enjoys her role as office manager for Junior Enterprises. The farm grows bell peppers, green beans, squash, potatoes and sweet corn—some of which it sells directly to people who attend Coachella Valley music festivals.
Photo/Marilyn Nunez

Editor's note: This is the final installment of a three-part Ag Alert series about different paths young farmers and ranchers take as they build their agricultural careers.

Celeste Alonzo's original field of dreams looked more like a gridiron or a diamond than a farm.

"I originally did not want to do farming," she said. "I wanted to do sports business. But my dad, after college, he asked me to help him, and I couldn't really say no."

So, after earning a bachelor's degree in liberal studies from Arizona State University, Alonzo returned to Coachella-based Junior Enterprises, founded by and named for her father, Luis Alonzo Jr.

"I always liked it," Celeste Alonzo said, "but working for my dad has just been a whole new experience, and I love it."

Alonzo works as office manager for Junior Enterprises, which operates in Riverside County's Coachella Valley on ranches in Mecca and North Shore, and grows bell peppers, green beans, squash, corn and potatoes.

You might say the Alonzos have ears for music—ears of corn, that is. The Coachella Valley hosts a pair of well-known music festivals, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and the country-oriented Stagecoach Festival, which take place on back-to-back weekends every April in Indio.

"That's around the time we're harvesting corn and potatoes," she added. "My dad was like, 'Might as well just sell it here.' We actually had such great turnout that they've invited us back for the last seven years."

The Alonzos offer grilled corn and baked potatoes; this year, chicken quesadillas joined the lineup.

Alonzo said her father plants corn around mid-December so it will be ready for the festival; corn is harvested each morning during the event to provide the freshest ears possible.

The first two years, Alonzo said, the family barely broke even, but they've learned from each year and are now humming along nicely.

"Stagecoach is (probably) where we sell the most corn, for sure," she said. "The people wait 40 minutes in line, sometimes, for corn."

Farming has been in the Alonzos' blood for three generations, starting with Celeste's grandfather, Luis Alonzo Sr.

"My grandpa came here from Mexico, came to Coachella Valley, and he started farming," Celeste Alonzo said. "My dad followed him, learned from him, and we're following in my dad's footsteps and learning from him."

She remembers her father taking her and her twin brother, Luis III, out to the ranch when they were little. Luis III, a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo grad—and father of newborn son Luis IV—also works on the farm. Younger brother Andres is a student at Cal Poly Pomona.

Alonzo said her father "supposedly wants to retire in five years," at which point she and her brothers plan to take over the company.

"I can see the three of us being here, working and trying to continue what my dad started," Alonzo said. "He didn't go to college, so seeing everything he's done without that degree, and showing us what hard work is, I want to continue that."

Even though her job requires her to be in the farm office most of the time, Alonzo said she tries to get out in the fields at least once a week.

"I want to show them I'm still here, even though I'm stuck in the office," she said.

One of her projects has been to create a more-recognizable brand for Junior Enterprises.

"I got logos made, so all the logos are on the trucks," Alonzo said. "I got hats made for all the workers. I got T-shirts made for all the workers, and I think it's just helped us become more of a company."

Alonzo first read about the Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers program in Ag Alert® and inquired about joining. After learning that there wasn't a specific Riverside County YF&R chapter at the time, she accepted an invitation to start one herself.

"I've never really seen myself as a leader, but I'll try it," Alonzo said. "I'll do it. And I did it."

At the first meeting, in August, about 15 people showed up, she said.

"That's given me a lot of hope," she said. "A lot of the young people said they've been wanting a program like this to happen."

YF&R membership in the region is up to 25 now, she said; at last week's meeting, the young farmers were set to make 600 Halloween candy bags to donate to a food distribution center in Mecca. The new YF&R group will host a Fall Festival Nov. 18 from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Rancho Coachella Business Park in Coachella, featuring food, games, raffles, music and line dancing. Alonzo wants to raise funds for YF&R and bring the farming community together.

Alonzo appears to have found her life's calling on the farm.

"I love what I do," she said. "I love working with the people out in the fields. I learned a lot from my dad, and everybody out there also. I don't even think I want to leave anymore."

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.