Plant City, Florida
Hilda and Fidel Castillo produce strawberries in Plant City, Florida, alongside their four sons.
Providing for her family inspired Hilda to start her own farm. Now farming alongside her children brings her great joy.
From employees to owners
As first-generation Americans, Hilda Castillo and her husband Fidel started in agriculture back in 1989, harvesting strawberries. It didn’t take long for the young couple to set their sights on owning their own farm someday. “I tried to save a little bit of money to start my own business, because we wanted to provide good opportunities for our family,” Hilda said.
Less than ten years later, in 1997, Hilda and Fidel had made their dream come true. Their farm business started small, with just one acre of strawberries, but in time, the farm has grown to span 210 acres. Today, Castillo Family Farms produces 2,000-2,500 boxes of strawberries per acre with the help of their staff, some of whom have been working for the family for fourteen years.
A family affair
While Hilda is the sole farm manager, her sons José and Fidel, Jr. tend to day-to-day farm maintenance and Alberto, having a degree from Florida State University in business marketing, plans to use his education to market and sell Castillo Farms produce. For Hilda, having her family be a part of her business is one of the best parts about her job. “I’m very proud that all my boys work at the farm,” she said. “In the future, I would like to have all my grandkids involved in agriculture, too.”
Fidel Jr. serves as a crew leader at Castillo Farms and also owns his own operation. Thinking back to his younger self, Fidel Jr. wouldn’t have imagined that he’d be so happy working in the family business all these years later. “We grew up on the farm having to work every day after school,” he said. “At first, we didn't like it, but now it's something we love to do.”
Partnership for growth
As Hilda and Fidel worked to expand their business, they decided they needed support from a lender. In 2006, they began working with Farm Credit of Central Florida. “What sets the Castillo’s apart from other strawberry operations is family. They all work together and help each other out.” said Joseph Sweat, the Castillo’s loan officer.
Hilda has been impressed by the support that Farm Credit provides for young farmers looking to enter the industry. She has watched her boys grow up and become involved in the family business thanks, in part, to support from Farm Credit.
Fidel Jr., for example, has been on the receiving end of Farm Credit’s support and acts as a role model for other young and beginning farmers in his community. “I have friends who want to start in agriculture, and they ask me all the time, 'What do I do?' With the help of agencies like Farm Credit, I tell them, ‘It's possible for anybody who wants to farm.’”
For the Castillos, the notion of family expands beyond blood relations and into their community. As stewards of the land, Castillo Family Farms allows the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to utilize land samples for soil and water research. “We understand that providing research resources to IFAS and the NRCS is invaluable to the industry and are happy we can help,” said Hilda.
Castillo Family Farms also donates strawberries to a local church to be made into strawberry shortcakes at their annual Strawberry Festival.
Sharing a legacy
Hilda and Fidel are dedicated to sharing their legacy with their children and have been longtime customers of Farm Credit of Central Florida. Hilda said, “We appreciate all the tools and resources Farm Credit has provided and will continue to do business with them.”
And for Joseph, watching the Castillo’s success is reward enough. “We want to see the Castillos succeed, because if they succeed, then we succeed. I think that's the Farm Credit difference right there.”