Organic Farmer: Rick Martinez

By Courtney Herrrig

The small pond in the back of Rick Martinez’s, the founder of Sweetwater Organic Farms, house signifies the man’s character. Fish, tadpoles and green vegetation prosper in their little ecosystem; Martinez lives his life and designs his values around the same system, a symbiotic lifestyle.  In many ways, he gives more than he takes.
He built his home on this idea. Old Florida oaks drape his home in shade; the front door opens to a large room with a steep ceiling encircled by an upstairs loft.  Souvenirs from 40 different countries decorate his cabin. On his tiptoes, in his bathroom shower, Martinez points out the window, “ You see that pond out there? The shower water is led out of these pipes into that filtration system.” One can barely notice the equipment covered in vines, “ Once it goes through the filter, it’s deposited into the pond.”
Martinez founded Sweetwater Farms in 1987 and managed it privately until 1994 when he decided to make it a community farm.  The farm has a variety of staff: paid employees, interns, and volunteers.  Michelle Haung and Daniel Bouvier, husband and wife, live together in a small bungalow adjacent to Martinez’s place. The property has three farm cats, two house cats; Donnie, a West Highland Terrier.  Sweetwater Farms is six acres of organic property along Sweetwater Creek.

Sweetwater Creek is more of a memory than a creek, in the early seventies Tampa’s Corp of Engineers diverted most of the creek water into Channel G, thus depleting most of it’s water supply.  Susan Fox, president of WMNF, will be performing her song “I remember Sweetwater Creek” at Sweetwater Organics Planters Ball on Oct. 20.
Martinez started off as an organic sprout and herbs distributor in the ‘70s.  In 1979, he got involved with organic certification and in 1990 became an organic inspector.  Companies from around the world hire Martinez to audit their facilities. Martinez has traveled the glove, mainly in South and Central America due to the coffee and cacao organic farming.

Martinez explains, “Because I had the engineering background  . . . I was the ideal person to do inspections.  Because I was bilingual, and had been farming, but I also understood complex processes.” The farmer/inspector was eventually elected president of the Independent Organic Inspectors Association.
However, Martinez’s focus was side tracked when the state of Florida began spraying malathion in the late nineties to combat the medfly infestation.  “It was interesting how this all came together in my life,” Martinez explains his involvement with CRAM, Citizens for Responsible Alternatives to Malathion.

His tears appear heavy as he recalls,  “My girlfriend had just died in May and I was probably looking for a battle.” They had been together for 18 years until 1997.  That summer Martinez publicly debated the state’s agriculture department at town hall meetings and Stetson Law School.
Martinez recalls the packed meeting in June that he and CRAM organized 1997 at the Seminole Heights United Methodist Church, “the department of agriculture decided to show up and I don’t know if that was a good idea because there was some very angry people there . . . people whose children had leukemia and had gone through all this trouble to remove every toxin from their house.”
According to the press, Martinez rallied the crowd with his shout “I could care less if it was $10-billion, I say keep your stuff out of our homes.” The impassioned cries of Martinez and other involved in CRAM lead to a lawsuit against the state for spraying malathion against EPA regulations.  And they won.
The young interns and Martinez meets at 8:15 every morning and discuss the day ahead.  Martinez announces that the sinks and stainless steel counters will need to be sanitized for the harvest.  Daniel suggests they borrow a trench digger for an upcoming project. Michelle asks the staff to please keep any empty food packaging for the educational program. She wants to quiz the children on organic products and non-organic products.  The crews tease Burke, the Turkish intern, joking that he can provide the junk food packaging.
The white dogs chase each other around the muddy yard; Donnie doesn’t seem to notice that Beau, a white standard poodle, is ten times his size.
Oscar Barquero, a recent intern from St. Louis, explains why the Sweetwater Organic education program is good for the community, “A five year old child went through the whole orientation here on the farm.”  Burke is hinting at his own experience when he explains the child’s, “from compost to seeding to planting to harvesting to plucking a piece of fruit off a tree. And you should have seen her face . . . she lit up with excitement.  If you show a child, let them see, they are going to discover a whole new world  . . . something new.”  Barquero is learning himself about a whole different world that exists at Sweetwater Farm.
The education program has existed since the very inception of Sweetwater.  Martinez is a teacher in many ways.  He is a teacher and mentor to the many interns that arrive every year from around the world. He is an educator to the local community with his lecture serious where he teaches “Introduction to Organic Farming.” According to Martinez the whole inception of the community farms was meant to educate the community of organic farming.
The Sweetwater has a strict ethic about the symbiotic relationship with the land.  Nearly all the waste is recycled; biodegradable waste is returned to the earth through compost, other waste is sent to the recycling plant.  In addition to Martinez’s grey water system, he drives a hybrid vehicle, rarely runs his air conditioning, and uses long lasting light bulbs.
The synergism culminates October 20th at the Planter’s Ball where members and guests enjoy music on a stage built by their hands and donated by their friends.   All participants will bring a covered dish, as well as taste the new harvest season of Sweetwater Organic Community Farm.

Fact Box:
October 20th Planter’s Ball
$10 Donation
$5 under 12
Free: Under 6
5:30 pm
BYOB & covered dish
Music begins at 6:30pm

Weekly Organic Market
Season begins Nov. 4
12-4 pm every Sunday
Buy organic products from Sweetwater & local vendors


4 Responses to “Organic Farmer: Rick Martinez”

  1. usfadvancedreporting Says:

    this is very descriptive.// i can acctually see his house in my head. good info too

  2. usfadvancedreporting Says:

    Interesting story.

  3. usfadvancedreporting Says:

    good story, break the paragraphs up more

  4. Carlos Callejas Vaughan Says:

    Hi, it is so good to hear about you and your flourishing business, I am currently rehabilitated as a matter of fact I am celebrating my second anniversary on May 5. I am administering a farm belonging to the family we have 75 manzanas in production, 33 manzanas in 2 years renovation, 67 manzanas in first year renovation all coffee, different varieties. We are hoping tp get the UTZ certification for the farm. and hope to obtain it by late October. We are also cleansing 150 manzanas for dual purpose cattle raising. My cousin has 2 other farms, one in Altos Masaya, Angus cattle about 250 heads, and also owns the largest forest reserve on the Costa Rican border.
    Well brother, I hope to get a reply from you soon.

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