When I first went to the Capitol to testify before the house agricultural assembly, I told myself that the next time I step into those halls that I would bring other farmers of color. I said that my voice would be in a chorus.
And it was so.
I wrote this summary of my return to the Capitol for the National Young Farmers Coalition California newsletter. This time with the voices of farmers from across the state, gathered in a report I will release in winter.
The California Farmer Justice Collaborative organized Farmer Justice Day in Sacramento on September 18, 2018, and invited NYFC’s California Organizer, Mai Nguyen, to present findings from the California Young Farmer Report that summarizes results of the listening sessions and state-wide survey conducted earlier this year.
Senators, assembly members, and legislative and California Department of Food and Agriculture staff filled the hearing room to its capacity, yielding only space for standing on the periphery. Importantly, over a dozen farmers of diverse age, geography, production types and scale, and ethnicities took time out of the peak season to hear what their fellow farmers expressed as their priorities and challenges.
The presentation opened with a dedication to young farmer Xamuel Lara, who grew Azteca crops and revitalized their indigenous names. Lara began farming at the famous South Central Farm in Los Angeles, then became as UC Santa Cruz CASFS apprentice before starting a farm in Mendocino County. They advocated for young farmers and farmers of color, and had planned to join us at the Capitol. Unfortunately, our farming community lost Xamuel Lara to a fatal accident the Friday before the Hearing. Thus, the presentation about young farmers was dedicated to his life and work.
Highlights from the report spanned topics as broad as land, water, and technical assistance access, to those as complex as structural racism and climate change. Farmer voices were shared through direct quotes from listening sessions, and further humanized by a panel of farmers who spoke at the end of the presentation.
Kristyn Leach is the owner and operator of Namu Farm in Winters, California. She spoke of the need to have farm advisors who reflect the diversity of farmers and farming practices, and to recognize and compensate for the work of farmers of color who have long used practices that increase soil health, facilitate capture of atmospheric carbon, and combat climate change. The process of uplifting farmers of color is “part of the need for reparations.”
Moretta Browne is a landless farmer who, after years of participating in farm training programs including UC Santa Cruz’s CASFS, farms in marginal spaces while looking for land security. Among many issues, she pointed to her college student loan debt as a significant factor in hindering her ability to afford land, and thus encouraged support for farmer student loan forgiveness.
The hearing wrapped up to give farmers time to talk with legislators. The recurring feedback from legislators and their staff was that it was powerful to hear directly from farmers across the state and in the room. Notably, the representative from South Los Angeles looked up South Central Farm after hearing about Xamuel Lara. He expressed interest in understanding the farming history in his district and how he might support urban farms.
We heard from farmers that they were struck by seeing a presentation that captured their experience in a way that helped them not only feel less alone, but also connected to a movement and a solution. For NYFC, the hearing reinforced the power of young farmers’ voices. The stories of those present and those no longer with us have the effect of grounding, inspiring, and coalescing our work.