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Harvesting Success: Insights from the Northeast Latino Agricultural Community Conference

Harvesting Success

[Editor’s Note: Jessica Calderón, our Program Coordinator for Witness to Witness, shares her perspective from a recent conference. Her report from the conference was developed with assistance from Jannette Nuñez, Program Manager for International Projects and Emerging Issues.]

Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Northeast Latino/a/x Agricultural Community Conference organized by Cornell University Small Farms Program in Albany, New York. This event brought together farmers, farm supervisors, agricultural employees, service providers, educators, and aspiring farmers who identify as Latinxs  as a space to provide resources, support, and a platform for sharing experiences, fostering the creation and strengthening of networks and opportunities in the Latinx agriculture community.

Jessica and Leslie stand at Farm Aid table

The conference's first day began with a warm welcome and a plenary session where participants engaged in a lively discussion on the central topic: challenges and barriers encountered by the Latinx community in building and sustaining thriving farm businesses. Following this, attendees broke out into various sessions covering topics such as crop production planning in the context of market dynamics amid climate change; agricultural workforce laws for family farming in New York; multicultural leadership in agriculture; and strategies for building successful businesses. Other sessions provided valuable information about programs supporting individuals in obtaining land and essential resources, including access to capital, business plans, and financial services.

Farm Aid and MCN resources

During the conference, Migrant Clinicians Network, in collaboration with Farm Aid, headed up a booth to introduce conference participants to the Farm Aid Spanish-language hotline, a collaborative MCN-Farm Aid advice phone line that assists farmers and farmworkers to access new markets, adopt sustainable practices, survive natural disasters, and obtain mental health and family services. We also offered participants some of our MCN comic books like “Seguridad En Palabras,” “Mi salud es mi Tesoro,” “Aunque cerca…sano,” and “Lo que bien empieza...Bien acaba.” These low-literacy Spanish-language comic books, available for free on the MCN website for download, cover agricultural topics of interest in a way that is easy to read, with illustrations. Having the time to connect face to face in this conference with farmers and agricultural workers allowed me to remind them how important they are, how much I value their work, and that there are organizations like Farm Aid and Migrant Clinicians Network doing the best they can to serve them.

Jessica poses for photo with conference attendees

By addressing practical concerns like childcare and meals, organizers removed barriers that might have prevented attendance and access to the resources made available. Witnessing the turnout and level of engagement from all participants was inspiring, as their stories highlighted the daily hardships faced by many in the agriculture industry. 

One family's journey stood out, as they had started their own business due to feeling undervalued in previous roles. Their perspective on the challenges of hard work without fair compensation resonated strongly. Sergio Rosario, a local farmworker, left a lasting impact with his statement; "A lot of people work hard and don't make money. If you are capable of getting up early for someone else's dreams, why are you not going to get up early for your own dreams and goals?". Through the sharing of stories, challenges, and triumphs, conference attendees provided valuable learning opportunities for those facing similar circumstances.

Paintings by Kirsten Kurtz

The second day was as impactful as the first, offering participants the chance to attend sessions they might have missed on the first day. Additionally, a new group discussion was introduced, exploring the concept of constructing a Latinx farmer organization through shared visions and collaborative efforts. The conference provided an inclusive space for sharing, learning, and cultivating new connections within the agricultural community. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate and witness the positive impacts of such gatherings.

The hotline is available by calling 1-800-FARM-AID (1-800-327-6243), Monday through Friday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm Pacific Time. Farmers and farmworkers can get information and resource connection in Spanish on topics of critical importance to their work, from farmer stress, to financial planning, to resources specific to LGBTQIA farmers. Learn more about the hotline and the topics covered on this MCN blog post: Immigrant Farmers Encounter Stressors, Obstacles, Isolation – A New Spanish-Language Hotline