I grew up on a diversified dairy goat farm where work with my mom – making hay, pruning fruit trees, butchering chickens, and assisting in midnight goat births – tangibly fostered an appreciation for farmers that drives my work today. During and after college I leased five acres and ran a 60 family vegetable CSA and sold pastured meat to restaurants. As a farmer myself I began organizing other beginning farmers in the Young Farmer Network (YFN) to share resources, knowledge, and a collective policy voice. My advocacy work led me to a job at New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, a non-profit organization where I worked with primarily peri-urban immigrant farmers who faced an even longer list of challenges than the mostly college-educated farmers who made up YFN. I began to really appreciate that as difficult as farming is, for so many I worked with it was an expression of human dignity and belonging.
Over the past two years, while directing a food systems fellowship at Harvard University, I spent my weekends farming an acre of my mother’s land. Many evenings I spent developing an eight-month urban farming training program in Roxbury, a poor and predominately African-American neighborhood of Boston. Though the coursework was practical, I tried to create space to interrogate historical legacies of urban and rural land access – issues central to current debates around local food sovereignty and food as a human right.
In the late summer of 2016 I put down my harvest knife, sold my walking tractor, and left the farmland I love. Though I will never give up my identity as a farmer, I am eager to embrace graduate training at ESPM to build theoretical and practical expertise on diversified farming systems. I will use those skills to continue advocating for a fair and regenerative food system.
At ESPM I intend to combine sociological and ecological research approaches to examine the effects of adaptive agricultural practices. I am interested in social outcomes, including farmer livelihoods and beginning farmer retention, as well as ecological indicators, such as soil health and water holding capacity. Working with the guidance of Professor Kathryn De Master I hope to study the policies and programs that effectively support diverse new farmers in a changing climate. In the long term I hope to conduct timely research, teach in higher education, and inform public policy that can improve our food system.