The Changing Face of Farming: An Interview with Nicole Cruz
The Cookbook Creative
When asked to describe a “farmer,” most people think of a weathered, middle-aged man in overalls, plowing the field and planting crops. But times are changing, and women are breaking stereotypes, taking charge of their farms, and redefining what it means to be a farmer.
We talked to Nicole Cruz, aka “Farmer Nicole,” and learned more about Florida’s Circle C Farms. When she says “farming” she means “protein.” And she’s leveraging lots of modern technology to overcome traditional stereotypes with passion, dedication, and commitment.
“When most people think of farms,” says Nicole, “they think about vegetables. They, they don't necessarily think about the livestock, such as cattle, sheep, and chickens. But that can be equally demanding. It's different than planting and going through the harvest. And so it's nice to be among up and coming women who are making a mark in farming and agriculture and working side by side with our partners and spouses. We’re taking a really strong hold on what's going on in our food system and feeding our communities.”
Modern advancements and changing technologies have made certain farm tasks less physically demanding than they once were, leveling the playing field for men and women like Nicole and her husband, Manny. “Manny and I divide and conquer based on our skills and our strengths,” says Nicole. “The equipment has changed, the technologies have changed, and there are resources available, which means farmers don't have to be the only ones doing some services on the farm.”
Even YouTube has played a key role in expanding the number of women in farming. “With YouTube, there's all these videos out there and these incredible resources that are not necessarily high-cost resources,” says Nicole. “You can sit and you can go from video to video to video and you can say: This is what I need. This is what I have to set up. This is how to do it. There's more available to us.”
A Personal Journey to Better Food
Nicole’s adventure in farming began with a personal mission—to eat better food.
“When we would go out to eat, I would get sick,” says Nicole. We were eating food covered in preservatives, covered in pesticides, covered in different types of enhancers, like sauces, and MSGs, and all these chemicals. I was just not able to enjoy myself. That was really the impetus for asking, ‘what can we do differently?’”
Nicole’s background in education and industry, combined with her husband’s background in agriculture, made it a no brainer. They founded Circle C Farms—a business focused on raising livestock while upholding principles of sustainability, humane treatment, and environmental responsibility.
From Small-Scale Farming to Expanding Operations
What started as a small-scale farm on six and a half acres in Bonita Springs, Florida, soon grew into something much larger. Demand for their high-quality eggs grew into a demand for chicken and other meats. They expanded their operations to encompass not just poultry but also lambs, pigs, and cattle.
“I'm not a complete micromanager, but I'm a pretty aggressive control freak about certain things,” says Nicole. And humanely harvesting the animals is at the top of her list. “We brought it in house, and that's how we ended up being the only farm in the country to have a USDA facility on our farm for both red and white meat. So, we raise our livestock, we harvest our livestock, we butcher our livestock, we package our livestock, and we provide it direct here in the community. Plus, we ship around the country each week.”
As their operations expanded, they were also able to open two farm stores with strategic locations to better serve their community.
Collaboration, Community, and Culinary Adventures
Nicole recognizes the importance of collaboration and community building within the farming industry, and she has forged partnerships with local organic vegetable and fruit farms to provide a diverse range of produce in the Circle C Farm stores. “One of my missions this year is to do more outreach to other farmers in our area,” she says. “I want to give them a place other than the farmers market to sell their products. They can grow their amazing product and we'll have it available for the community in our farm stores.” By showcasing these partnering farms’ quality products, she not only supports fellow farmers but also ensures access to fresh, organic food for the community.
The stores even have licensed kitchens, which means they can create on-farm meals, host pasture-to-plate events, and employ talented chefs and bakers to elevate the overall food experience. She’s bridging the gap between farm and table and between consumers and their food sources, while cultivating a vibrant culinary culture within the community.
All Things Chorizo
When we asked Nicole for a favorite recipe, she went straight for the chorizo. “We live down here [in southern Florida] and we have very heavy Latin influences. So, when you think of chorizo, a lot of times people think of ‘hot and spicy.’ But we had to design this chorizo for me because I wanted to enjoy it. It's got a bite, not a burn.” Now, they not only offer chorizo through their store, but have recipes and a spice blend that can kick almost any recipe up a notch.
“We came up with the idea of using our pork chorizo with our biscuits for biscuits and gravy. Oh, Lord. I'm like, yeah, let me in here. I'm so glad we get to share it.”
Navigating Hurricane Season as a South Florida Farmer
Living in Florida exposes farmers like Nicole to the ever-present threat of hurricanes and preparing for potential disasters becomes a crucial part of farm management. Hurricanes bring fierce winds, heavy rainfall, and power outages that can wreak havoc on farms.
“We are truly 100 percent pasture raised,” says Nicole. “So, all our livestock, whether it's our chickens, our ducks, our laying hens... whether it's the pigs, cows, or calves... I mean everything literally is outside.” Hurricanes Irma and Ian were particularly devastating. “You stay as safe as you can and you watch what you just spent years to create get destroyed in minutes.”
Nicole says they learn from every hurricane. They plan and prepare, doing everything possible to safeguard their animals and infrastructure. Mobile coops and houses, strategically placed equipment, and stockpiled resources such as fuel and generators allow them to act fast when storms approach. “We literally have to stop all farming practices and go into planning and prep mode,” she says. “We have a small team, and we go change from butcher shop clothes to outside clothes and boots. It’s all hands on deck.”
Farming is a heavy commitment financially, emotionally, and physically, and mother nature can add an intense new level of challenges. The best description of farmers? Resilient.
Celebrating the new family farm
One thing to note. Buying direct from a family farm isn’t quite like going to the grocery store. “Right now, in my butcher shop freezer, I don't have a lot of chicken,” says Nicole. “I have a handful of cuts, which we have available in the store and on the website. And thanks to mother nature, there’s not a darn thing to do about it. My little team is asking, ‘When are those chickens going to be ready? When can we harvest those chickens?’ And I’m like, ‘hang tight, hang tight!”
Those chickens just need a little more time to grow. It’s the same when people are looking for bacon or filet mignon. “We’re not going to harvest a pig just for bacon,” she says. “We don’t harvest a cow just for filets. We are a nose to tail farm. It’s just my job to educate, inform, and share information.” When one cut isn’t available, it’s a great opportunity to explore new cuts and new recipes.
While we celebrate the contributions of women in farming and agriculture, we can also pause to recognize the key role they play in feeding our communities and transforming the way we think about our food. Farmers like Nicole show us what can happen when there’s an unwavering commitment, willingness to adapt, and dedication to ethical practices. The farm is a place where sustainability and quality foods go hand in hand.
Be sure to Follow Farmer Nicole!
Farmer Nicole, Feeding your Body, Mind and Soul Podcast
Nicole’s new podcast gives her an opportunity to have conversations with people who have different backgrounds and experiences from her own. “I want to talk to ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” she says. “I have a heavy background in education, and I personally get so much pleasure, insight, intellectual tingling, and joy out of having conversations with people. And it's not just about agriculture and farming, but really about stuff in life.”