Every year, we honor individuals, farms and local businesses making a positive impact on our food and agricultural communities throughout California. This year’s nominations–submitted by people like you–overflowed with inspiring stories of change-makers who are innovating, giving back and working to make our soils more fertile for the next generation. While it was no easy task narrowing down that list, we couldn’t be happier or more impressed by this year’s slate of honorees. Hailing from all corners of the state, each making their own unique contribution, here they are: the 2021 California Food & Farm Champions, shining a hopeful light on what’s possible.
Big thanks to everyone who nominated their own local food and farm heroes. And to the volunteers on our selection committee. Awards will be bestowed during the conclusion of the California Small Farm Conference on February 28, a free event featuring keynote speaker, Nikki Silvestri. Until next year’s nominations begin, congrats to these champions!
Will Scott, Scott Family Farms
Will Scott Jr. started farming as a form of self-transformation and restoration. Mr. Scott’s grandfather was a sharecropper in Oklahoma and came to California as a teenager. He was an engineer for more than 30 years, and when he retired he realized he was overweight and unhealthy due to limited activity and access to fresh fruits and vegetables. In an effort to heal himself and re-connect with his agricultural roots Mr. Scott began gardening. Once he got back into the soil, Mr. Scott dreamt of a day when he could own his own land to farm. After being rejected 3 times from three different banks in pursuit of a loan to purchase land, Mr. Scott persevered and began farming. But he didn’t stop there. Inspired by the transformative experience he had on the land through growing food, he chose to work towards building opportunities for other African Americans to do the same, co-founding the African American Farmers of California 16-acre Demonstration Farm. Today, Mr. Scott is still farming and working to pass on a great legacy that has helped to make a way for other Black Farmers to grow food and community both in the Central Valley and beyond.
Verónica Mazariegos-Anastassiou, Cole Mazariegos-Anastassiou & Cristóbal Cruz Hernández, Brisa de Año Ranch
If the resilience that these three farmers demonstrated during 2020 is any indication of their future, you can bet Brisa de Año is here to stay. When the market shutdowns of COVID-19 struck this small, organic, cooperatively run farm in Pescadero, Cole, Cristóbal & Verónica hustled to pivot their business and ramp up their CSA while collaborating with emergency food networks to help feed families in need. Just when things were looking up, California’s worst ever wildfire season showed up at their farm’s door step. As the fires still raged and firefighters prioritized urban centers, they took matters into their own hands, building fire breaks with their tractors and reassembling melted irrigation. But through cooperation, determination and community, they pulled through. Only weeks later they were sharing their hard-learned lessons with fellow farmers on webinars, even meeting with policymakers to guide future wildfire prevention programs for rural areas. For a farm that just wrapped up its third season, we can’t wait to see what’s next.
Caiti Hachmyer, Red H Farm & The Women’s Symposium
How Caiti manages to run her own farm on top of everything else is itself a mystery worthy of this award. When Caiti noticed there were important voices missing in the so-called “Food Movement”, she made it her mission to lift them up, founding Celebrating Women’s Leadership in Food, an organization and event that advances a social movement of women in food and farming by creating spaces for women “to celebrate, connect across difference, build trust, and create community to cultivate new forms of leading together to shift paradigms of power and meaningfully address ecological crises and social inequity.” While Caiti is never short on convictions of her own, she has become an ally in the truest sense, devoted to centering leaders who are women-identified, trans, queer, Black, Indigenous and People of Color, and whose identities intersect and transcend these categories. From her careful tending of the soil nearby to her unwavering resistance against all injustice, Caiti is a lifelong advocate that we’re lucky to have in our community.
Susie Sutphin, Tahoe Food Hub
Susie and her team have admirably adapted the Tahoe Food Hub in a year flush with crises and challenges, galvanizing the surrounding foodshed to keep folks in the Tahoe region fed and nourished. Additionally, she has also collaborated with local organizations to launch the Giving Box program, feeding those out of work, or facing food insecurity during an especially tough year, while trailblazing the way toward an accessible acroecology growing dome in town for educational opportunities in the community, and helping to coordinate the Forever Farm Project alongside Briar Patch Coop, and Bear Yuba Land Trust, ensuring that farm land remains accessible for farmers in the Sierra Nevada Foothills. At the heart of all these efforts lies a drive to support the hardworking farmers in the Tahoe Food Hub network, ensuring they have consistent outlets for their produce and advocating for them every step of the way.
Kristyn Leach, Namu Farm
Kristyn Leach runs Namu Farm, with a focus not just on organic heirloom Korean produce but also seed saving and production on a small scale at a time when the seed industry has been consolidated into the hands of just a few big businesses. Leach is working to develop varieties adapted to local climate that require less water use, recognizing that adaption to a hotter and drier climate is vital to California’s future. During her first few years, Kristyn has worked tirelessly to reduce carbon footprint of farming, employing no-till crop planting and has has reduced her water consumption by one quarter. But she doesn’t stop at the borders of her own small farm, she teaches webinars and posts YouTube videos to share her experience and knowledge.
FARMERS MARKET CHAMPION
Carle Brinkman, Ecology Center
Carle Brinkman, Food and Farming Director at the Ecology Center, is a steadfast champion for farmers’ markets across the state. She oversees the operations of the 3 Berkeley Farmers’ Markets, the California Alliance of Farmers’ Markets, and the Market Match nutrition incentive program. She works tirelessly to ensure farmers’ markets, farmers, and low-income shoppers are well represented in policy decisions state and nation-wide. She is a fearless advocate for local food systems that create resilient, healthy, and equitable communities. In a year like 2020, when farmers markets had to jump through hoops to remain open while bending over backward to keep their communities safe in the process, champions like Carle rose to the occasion, fighting to endure our markets could continue providing healthy food during a time when we all needed it most and vital lifeline to our small, local farms.
Pete Price POLICY CHAMPION
Don Aguillard, Central Valley Neighborhood Harvest
Central Valley Neighborhood Harvest is a nonprofit volunteer organization in Central Valley California whose mission is to prevent food insecurity and promote food justice, promote youth agriculture and life skills, and promote sustainable use of urban resources. Don Aguillard helps organize neighborhood fruit harvesting, develop community neighborhood gardens and provide education on fruit tree care, harvesting, gardening and healthy lifestyles among families. Don was a primary driving force for the successful implementation of Stockton’s Urban Agriculture Ordinance, making it possible for Stockton residents to keep chickens, ducks and bees, and allows for additional types of produce stands to sell locally grown fruits and vegetables. This outward support by the City of Stockton was an important step towards better supporting existing urban farms and providing the space and fodder for more to come in soon.