A Farming Life

A Farming Life
Jaime Ortega of Natalie’s Garden and Greenhouse near Oregon

For many farmers, working the land keeps them close to family, even if that family lives thousands of miles away. Jaime Ortega moved to Wisconsin from Zacatecas, Mexico, in 1994. At the time, his older brother was already farming near Oregon and helped him get a job on the same farm, where he could earn a little piel de la rana, or “frogskin,” a slang term for money.

Ortega had never left his small town of Tayahua but was no stranger to farming. He grew up poor and started helping his dad farm from a young age, raising food mainly to feed their family. Within a few years of working in Wisconsin, his life changed dramatically. Not only was he able to build a house for his parents in Mexico, but he met his wife, Natalie, whose family owned the farm across the street from the one where he worked.

“It’s different here,” Ortega says. “People there farm by hand. We use horses and mules to plow and plant. Here you have every machine you can think of.”

There are other differences, too; Ortega and his wife grow snap peas and flowers, which he never grew in Mexico. Oh, and there’s winter. “I hate winter. It is so depressing,” he says. “I love the rest of the seasons, but winter, I don’t like it.”

Aside from mountains of snow and tractors, many things remain the same. The Ortegas now own their own farm, Natalie’s Garden and Greenhouse, just outside of Oregon, and grow many vegetables Ortega grew as a kid, such as carrots, zucchini, tomatillos, peppers and sweet corn. They have a young daughter. And a few of Ortega’s twelve brothers and sisters live in the area and help out on the farm.

Though his parents remain in Mexico, Ortega feels close to them. “My dad has been a hard worker all his life,” he says. “I learned how to work hard from my dad, but my personality is from Mom. I’m very friendly and honest.” A couple thousand miles can’t change that. 

RECIPE: Broiled Zucchini stuffed with Gruyère and Feta


4 medium zucchini 2 tsp butter Salt and pepper 1/3 cup feta 1/4 cup cottage cheese 1/4 cup Gruyère 1 egg 1 tbsp chopped parsley 2 tsp chopped marjoram 1 tsp flour


Preheat broiler. Lightly oil a baking dish large enough to hold the squash in a single layer. Prepare the zucchini for stuffing, halving each one and scooping out the flesh. Finely chop the zucchini and sauté it in the butter, stirring frequently, until browned in places. Season with salt and pepper and combine with all the other ingredients. Fill the zucchini and set side by side in the baking dish. Broil about 6 inches from heat until browned and heated through, about 20 minutes.

Recipe from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

You can find the Ortegas at the Dane County Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Their greenhouse is also open to the public during part of the summer. Call 334-8798 for hours.