Grist 50 Catalyst

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Farming and community organizing constitutes the grassroots work that people walk past, take for granted, or trample on. There’s plenty of good, earth-moving work that goes unrecognized. Each year Grist shines a light on 50 people engaged in positive change, in fixing. Thus, I’m grateful and honored to be included among the 2018 Grist 50with special thanks to author Samin Nosrat for recognizing my efforts. Here’s what she wrote about me:

I want the future of American agriculture to look like Mai Nguyen. She has a science background, but she understands the cultural importance of food. She’s tough and focused, even after losing 15 of her 28 acres in the California wildfires.

Mai’s a one-woman solution to major diversity problems in U.S. farming. Our fields are vast, monolithic rows of corn and soy — crops like these make up about 75 percent of U.S. agriculture. She raises heritage plants like Syrian wheat and Vietnamese eggplant, preserving the diversity of flavors in food.

She improves people diversity, too. Our farmers are mostly white dudes. There are plenty of reasons why: the high cost of land, casual racism and sexism within rural America, immigrant parents who want something better than manual labor for their daughters.

In 2017, she organized farmers and testified at the California legislature to help pass a new law that ensures farmers of color will have a say in Golden State agriculture policy. And she’s quick to give talks to and field questions from other farm-curious women of color.

Here’s how she puts her heirloom crops in context for family members who were refugees from Vietnam: “We came from a country that doesn’t exist anymore. Cultural practices are dying. Seeds can bring some semblance of home.”