Producer Spotlight: Stephanie Vinat of The AppaLatin Farmstead
Updated: Mar 10, 2021
Stephanie Vinat and her husband, Jeremiah Batla, run The AppaLatin Farmstead, a small organic farm focused on Latin American cuisine. They started the farm after leaving comfortable finance jobs in Los Angeles and traveling through Latin America to reconnect with Stephanie's Cuban and Puerto Rican Roots. They obtained their certificates in permaculture design and developed a passion for food justice.
Stephanie took the time to talk to us about her experience and how the farm got started. Listen to the interview below, or scroll down to find the transcript. The AppaLatin Farmstead's aji amarillo paste, a traditional Peruvian chili sauce which Stephanie profiles in the interview, is on sale in our market now!
Kade: Well, I guess to start from the top, how are you doing today, Stephanie?
Stephanie: I'm great, thank you. I'm ready for spring, but other than that I'm really well.
Kade: All right. So let's get started. Can you tell me about yourself a little bit, and your farm, for anybody who doesn't know?
Stephanie: Sure. My name is Stephanie Vinat; I'm the owner-operator of The AppaLatin Farmstead in Marshall, North Carolina. My husband is co-owner, co-operator, Jeremiah Batla. We started this farm together in 2018. We own about six-and-a-half acres out here in Marshall. Currently we have about a tenth of an acre in production, and that's what we call our market garden. That's where we're growing most of our vegetables and produce that we offer at market, and also all of the peppers, garlic, onion, that make our sauces are grown on a tenth of an acre. We're considered a small farm.
Kade: That's really neat. How did you get started doing this?
Stephanie: It's a bit of a story! I'm originally from Florida, my husband's originally from Texas, and we were living in Los Angeles. We were both in finance up until 2016, and our careers were great. It was a good thing, we were doing well, but we weren't feeling fulfilled. In 2016, after careful planning and careful consideration, we sold our homes in Southern California, and we decided to travel for a few years. During our travels, we spent a lot of time in Latin America. Specifically Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Belize. Really the focus was to spend more time in nature, reconnect culturally. I was raised in a bilingual household. I'm Puerto Rican and Cuban, and growing up in the United States, Spanish definitely became a second language. I was actually starting to forget a little bit of my upbringing, so traveling and spending this time in Latin America, speaking Spanish on a daily basis, it really helped to fulfill that void in my life. Being closer to my culture, being closer to the language I grew up with, all of that. It was very fulfilling.
My husband actually was able to attend Spanish-learning classes for English speakers while we were there. He did a six-week program in Costa Rica, which was amazing. During that program, he met a gentleman who had recently gotten his permaculture design certificate there in Costa Rica. He opened our eyes to this world of permaculture, and we ended up attending the permaculture school in Punta Mona and getting our permaculture design certificate. That was really the inspiration behind starting a farm, focusing on regenerative and permaculture practices, working with the land, and really just changing our lifestyle from this urban Los Angeles hustle in finance to this more...laid back, I guess I could say? You know, farming is not always laid back. [laughs]
Kade: [laughs] Yeah.
Stephanie: But you know, just a grounded approach to life. All of that kind of came together and led us in the direction of honoring my upbringing, honoring the Latin culture. And then also realizing that there were certain gaps in the United States food system, especially when it comes to food justice. Growing up, a lot of the Latin American offerings available at a typical grocery store had a lot of preservatives and a lot of sugar, and what we've seen is that the rate of diabetes in the Latin American culture is really high, and a lot of that has to do with food justice. So our mission on the farm is to grow healthy, highly-nutritious food and then make it available for the Latin American community so that there's access to organic, highly-nutritious Latin offerings rather than the highly-processed stuff you typically get access to.
Kade: Right, right. That's really neat. I didn't know that you had that food justice angle, too. That's awesome. How did you end up here in Southern Appalachia, if you did all that traveling, and you're from all of those places?
Stephanie: My husband and I were always a bit nomads. We set out when we left California to find a place where we wanted to settle down and raise a family and lead a different lifestyle than what our path was at that time. We really searched, and it was actually at our permaculture school in Costa Rica, when we were talking about climates in different areas of the world, that our teacher identified Western North Carolina, Eastern Tennessee, and Northern Georgia as the most biodiverse area in North America. Just before then, we had done some camping in the Smokies, and we just loved this area. We kept coming back to Asheville, mostly, for camping trips and hiking trips. When we heard about the biodiversity, and we really studied the area and the climate, we decided we'd start looking for property in this area. We took a wide approach and looked in Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, and we just kept coming back to Marshall. There's something about this area that really just drew us in. We found what we felt was the ideal property.
Kade: It's really beautiful out there.
Stephanie: Yeah, it's beautiful, and one of the things we also learned from our travels is that we love living amongst the trees, amongst the mountains, and we knew that for us, the urban lifestyle--we had already done that. That's kind of how we grew up, so we were really looking for something different. More rural, more country, and again, it just pulled us in. We just loved this area.
Kade: I guess you found rural and country, for sure.
Stephanie: We did! It was a learning curve. It's definitely different in so many wonderful ways.
Kade: How long have you been out there, now?
Stephanie: We moved onto our property in November of 2018, so it's only been a couple of years.
Kade: Tell me more about the food justice piece. Is that something that you're currently able to work with much on your farm? Are you selling to Latin markets?
Stephanie: We haven't been able to sell to Latin markets, but what we have been able to do is source from Latin markets. As I mentioned, our farm--what we have in production--is only about a tenth of an acre, and so many of our recipes have garlic and onion and garlic and cilantro, and some of the items we can't grow the volume that we would need. So we have partnered with other farms and markets in the area to source some of those items to fill the void of what we can and are able to grow on our land. We hope to move into that space eventually; we're still a young business, still trying to find our footing.
Kade: Well, that's really neat, though, and it reminds me a lot of what we're trying to do here at Patchwork, where we're trying to connect small farmers and growers and makers of all stripes to each other to have that kind of resource sharing. Like, If you don't grow enough of something, or don't have access to something, how do you source that locally and support someone else local for what you need, as well as what you're producing.
Stephanie: Yeah. And I think we're in the very early phases of that. So, our value-added products we launched in June of 2020, so it's a young line of products. As I mentioned, some of the sourcing we're able to collaborate with other farmers and markets, but I anticipate that that will really grow as the product line grows.