A Guatemalan Immigrant Takes on Big Ag, Seeks to Set Farmers Free by Starting Their Own Chicken Processing Plant in Iowa

NORTHFIELD, Minn. — Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin crouched over a green tuft one evening in June.

He ran his fingers through a spiky strand and patted the hard dirt. Rain hadn’t fallen in weeks, and he expected to lose about 300 of his new hazelnut trees.

Still, he was upbeat.

“This,” he said, “is my first real chance.”

Haslett-Marroquin sketched his ideal farm 35 years ago, when he studied at an agricultural school in Guatemala. He wanted to build a place where animals and plants fed each other, enriched the soil and pulled carbon from the air.

He wanted to open his own school and spread his vision throughout Guatemala. He wanted small farmers to be able to rely on themselves, to be able to resist contracts with big companies. He believed laborers could earn better wages, and he believed his system would prevent anyone from feeling hungry, like he did.

The plan didn’t pan out as he expected. But Haslett-Marroquin, who immigrated to the United States in 1992, didn’t give up on the idea. In November, he bought 75 acres south of the Twin Cities and is preparing the site to become the farm he has long wanted.