“I felt legally supported to participate, emotionally safe, and that what I had to say was powerful – that it counts. Some of the power that I had lost through the [immigration] process, I was able to get back.”
The Spanish “poder hablar” translates to both the ability to speak, and literally, the “power” of speaking. This week, we hear the powerful story of Isabel Quiroz of Tequio Community Farm in Mendocino, California. Isabel immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico four years ago, and was nervous about participating in the U.S. policy process, and about whether her experiences would be counted by Members of Congress. She shares with us about her journey to DC for our 2018 Convergence, and how becoming a young farmer advocate has helped her to gain a sense of agency as a U.S. citizen and to feel supported on her farm.
“Tequio comes from an indigenous concept in México that makes reference to a work party, traditionally members of a community would gather on a weekly basis to perform a task that would bring benefit to everyone.”
Isabel: This is the Young Farmers Podcast. I’m Lindsey Lusher Shute, two weeks ago, over 100 farmers from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C. for our fourth annual Leadership Convergence. Convergence brings together young farmer leaders to learn about how they can change the future of agriculture. They learned how to be advocates for issues that they care about, how to engage in the policy making process and how to build a local network of support, and on the last day, farmers met with their members of Congress to tell them what they need to be successful.
Steve: I’m Steve Munno, organic vegetable farmer at Massaro Community Farm in Woodbridge, Connecticut. I’ve been a member of the National Young Farmers Coalition since 2011. The National Young Farmers Coalition works to change policy, build networks and provide business services to ensure all young farmers have the chance to succeed at $35 a year you can join too. By becoming a member, you are helping to build a bright and just future for agriculture in the U.S. And you’ll also get discounts like 10 percent off Johnny’s selected seeds and 10 percent off Hoss tools to join, go to youngfarmers.org.
Farmers: Hey, I’m David from Santa Cruz, California. Danny Cuevas from south Texas.
Farmers: Jeannie Bartlett and I’m from Burlington, Vermont. Jonathan McCarthy, and I am a young farmer from Arkansas.
Isabel: Sometimes as a farmer when you’re in it every day, it can be tough to remember why you do the work.
Farmers: Once you become a farmer, you become everything else. You know, you’re a business owner, you’re a marketer, it’s, it’s complicated.
Farmers: Because we’re feeling pretty heavy about agriculture and the prospects for young farmers. People who have so much passion for farming and they’re not able to access land. They’re not able to have healthcare. They’re not able to make a wage where they can eventually buy land or buy a house or raise a family.
Isabel: Has it ever happened to you when you say one word and you repeated so much that it doesn’t make any sense anymore? I feel that that happens to us and at some point in the season, me and my husband Hunter, we were like, wait, wait a second why are we farming again? I don’t, I don’t know. Well, it kind of makes sense. Yeah. But not really, so we’re questioning a lot of things. So my name is Isabel Quiroz and I run on vegetable operation with my husband. Isabel just finished up her fourth season, farming one and a half acres of sustainable vegetables and berries with her husband in Mendocino, California. I think I like to keep myself busy. I’ve always been involved in jobs or projects are very demanding. So when I found myself farming I was like, oh, well surprise, surprise, another 24 hour job. Great. I really enjoy working outdoors and working with, with the, with the community. I like to feel that what I do brings a direct impact into the environment and into the community. I am from Mexico and I just moved here four years ago. I was working in Mexico doing community development through farming. And then I got married with my husband now Hunter and decided to move here to the states. I used to like to attend a lot of conferences and workshops and I stopped doing that because I was feeling that there was not a lot of information or experiences that would be meaningful for what I’m doing. And I was hesitant to be honest to go to this one.
Lindsey: She was especially concerned about going because of the lobbying part of the conference. Like maybe it wouldn’t be legal for her to be part of it.
Isabel: So I reach out to the organizers and I ask Hey, I, you know, I didn’t want to do anything that’s wrong, you know, I have a green card and just want to double check if I can be part of it. And they went and talked with a couple of lawyers and a couple of organizations and then they came back like, yeah, yeah, you can totally participate. So she left the farm for Washington. Was the first time that I’ve ever been in DC. It’s really beautiful and it’s, you know, you see all those movies and you see a lot of those buildings and well, when we’re driving by like, oh, I’ve seen that. Oh, it’s actually bigger than what I thought, so I was very surprised in a good way. There was a lot of farmers, first of all, this convergence, I feel like it gave me a lot of resources and a lot of important topics that I’m having right now, like land access. As I was attending different workshops, I just kept thinking about my neighbors, like, oh, the Masha lady could totally get that grant or like my other friends can totally apply for that. So I’m actually really excited to get together with some of my neighbors and just talk with them and like, hey listen, there’s all these things that we could be doing right now.
Isabel: So everything was moving really quickly and we suddenly we were in a workshop on how to lobby and all the things that we were going to say, that’s like, oh my God, I can’t believe I’m actually doing this.
Lindsey: After three days of sitting in workshops and panels about the USDA, racial equity, the farm bill, everyone got to meet their representatives.
Farmers: Wow. Today has been super exciting because we all bussed in from our conference center super early in the morning, everyone’s dressed up and then folks are just rolling out to different meetings with their members of Congress. Working towards getting the farm bill passed. This is critically important for the future of our agricultural system and supporting young farmers. Tell them like, give them a piece of our mind, you know, and say like, this is what needs to happen it needs to happen now.
Isabel: I had two meetings on lobbying day, my first meeting it was with Jared Huffman, congressman, Jared Huffman and, and my friend Caroline Rehberger. She also farms in Mendocino County. So we went together and he was really kind. He was very busy. He had a meeting so he had to leave. So we stayed with his, with his staffer, but that was really nice. The person that we met with actually had a lot of knowledge and to agricultural related issue. So the conversation was flowing really nicely. We were talking about land access here in Mendocino County. Um, we’re seeing how the price of the land are very inaccessible for vegetable farmers because we have to compete not only with the wine we’re in wine country here, but also now with all the marijuana industry. So we talked about that. We talked also about, the importance of having a program for farmers to get trained. We talk about the importance of, of supporting programs like LAMP, for the farmer’s market and we’d talk about, do you know, adjusting and just adjusting the programs to really reflect the changes in the demographics. And that’s something that needs to happen. Their really kind. They were really kind, but we were wondering, oh, are, they just really nice people were there, was that genuine? But I, I feel that, um, there was genuine interest in what we had to say. We were also sharing personal stories. So for example, the person that we were meeting with, she knew the technicals on the farm bill and we’re talking about the importance of equity. A couple of years ago we had a really big storm and we lost our greenhouses. We lost a lot of money that night and it was all of our savings and we thought, well, we’re not going to be able to, we’re not going to be able to recover from that, so we’re going to quit, through that example, I was explaining to her that for new small scale farmers, it’s really important to have access to infrastructure because climate change is here and you never know what it’s going to happen. The region where we’re at, we would not be able to be financially sound without those structures, and I was explaining it to her that like 70 percent of our income comes from those greenhouses. So if you want to start an agricultural first generation like we are, how are you going to make it work? There’s gonna be a lot of investments that you need to do and we need to have access to those type of, of programs. That’s an example. I think that they understand the technicals and everything on paper makes sense, but when you can relate it to a personal story. In my case, yes, I lost my structures in one night and for me to get access to fundings, to loans, it would have taken a long time and in farmer times and office time does not necessarily go hand to hand.
Lindsey: Sometimes it only takes one story to change how a lawmaker feels and that story can have a real impact on how they vote on national issues.
Isabel: It was interesting because um, especially for small farmers, I am only farming in 1.5 acres, which is we’re not even in, we’re, not even part of any statistics. Oh well we are, but we’re a minority within the minority. And I think it was a good example, how a lot of people want to start a career in farming and most people start like us, but then they face this institutional challenges in which having access to certain types of grants, it’s just very difficult.
Lindsey: After lobby day, everyone dispersed, going to airports, getting in cars, going back home. Isabel left with a new sense of community and understanding exactly why she keeps farming.
Isabel: I think if you go to a really good conference, it can really change the way you enter the next farming season.
Farmers: We’re like all on the same wavelength here. Yeah, my, my brain just starts going and I’m like, oh sweet, we’re going to do all of these different things. And uh, its re energizing to go home and be like the missions real and I’m going to continue to push this because I’m not the only one pushing it. And it’s obviously important. It’s so important for all of us knowing that we’re not in this alone.
Lindsey: But the impact of convergence was even more personal than she imagined.
Isabel: I am an immigrant and I, you know, I, I’m, I’m very lucky I am.
Isabel: Everything has been legal and following what I’m supposed to do when so and so, but that doesn’t mean that it’s been really easy. I, I do want to say that I know that I’m more privileged than the majority of all, then a lot of people that are trying to come in to this country and but during this process of immigration, the process is designed to, to make you a little fearful of the system. It’s a very long process. It’s expensive and all the way through it, there was this constant feeling of, oh, you the pointer, you don’t belong here, you did different. And that’s something that I just hadn’t felt before. So without really being conscious about it, I felt that I lost a lot of power, if you will. I didn’t really notice when it happened, but I was a little more shy, a little more quiet. I was always very participative before I moved here, but I guess I was very intimidated. So it was, it was very gratifying to first to find that group of people that I had so many things in common. It was very easy to engage in conversation with everybody. It was very relatable. Every single example that I heard and it was just really special. Oh, I just realized that I felt legally supported to participate, but also emotionally safe to feel that what I have to say, it’s powerful and that it counts.
Isabel: It was really beautiful that I felt that a lot of or some of the power that I had lost through this process, I was able to get back.
Lindsey: Thank you, Isabel and everyone else who was able to come and make their voices heard at convergence this year. Your stories make a difference.
Lindsey: If you’re interested in starting a chapter of the national young farmers coalition or attending our convergence next year, go to youngfarmers.org. Select our chapters tab where you can see the map of all of our chapters. We now have 41 chapters in 28 states. Check out the map. There may be a chapter near you already, but if not, you can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s email@example.com. There is a link to that email address. Where our awesome chapter organizer, Caitlin will get back to you and help you get started. This week I want to give a shout out to Meg Browning who left us a really sweet review on iTunes. She says, thank you for adding this podcast to the growing list of resources that I can engage with to connect with other young farmers and have our voices heard. Thank you Meg, we really appreciate this review. You too can be thanked for your review on his podcast next week. Just leave us a quick review. It only takes a couple of minutes, just open iTunes, go to go to the young farmers podcast, and you can rate us and you can also leave us a quick review. Tell us what you like, what you’d like to hear more of, what you don’t want to hear any more of. We’re open to it all and we appreciate all of your feedback. As always, this podcast was recorded at Radio Kingston and edited by Hannah Beal.