Through her advocacy work, farmer Verónica Mazariegos-Anastassiou is pushing for a better food and agriculture system to support young and beginning farmers in the United States.
Mazariegos-Anastassiou, Co-Founder of Brisa Ranch in California, began working with the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) in 2020. The following year, NYFC selected her as a 2021 California Political Leadership Fellow. “That really connected me to a lot of the advocacy work that had been taking place,” she tells Food Tank.
This advocacy work “felt like a calling,” Mazariegos-Anastassiou says. “In fact, I very much think farming is political by nature.”
But Mazariegos-Anastassiou, who is also a member of the California Farmer Justice Collaborative, says that through her advocacy work, she has seen “a lot of symbolic gestures.” And while she believes it’s important to recognize the work of farmers, she worries “we’re falling into a trap” and failing to take the necessary actions that will make farming more sustainable and equitable.
The California Justice Collaborative, Mazariegos-Anastassiou says, is focusing on the different needs of the state’s farmers and land stewards. She wants to see the 2023 Farm Bill address the responsible management of land and other natural resources.
“I’d like to see a Farm Bill that looks at how farming can work together with conservation, not against it,” Mazariegos-Anastassiou tells Food Tank. She worries that many of today’s policies see conservation beginning only when farming ends rather than encouraging farmers to produce food in a way that protects and restores the Earth.
Desired changes also include increasing land access for new and beginning farmers.
“I feel conflicted about the notion of owning land, but at the same time, I see it as the only way in the current system for someone to have that sense of agency and stability,” Mazariegos-Anastassiou tells Food Tank. “So how can we make it easier for young farmers to buy land?” Or, she adds, when farmers aren’t interested in land ownership, what incentives can help landowners become great landowners and welcome young farmers?
According to a recent survey from NYFC, 59 percent of young farmers report that it is very or extremely challenging to find affordable land. That is why the Coalition launched the One Million Acres for the Future Campaign, calling on congress to invest US$2.5 billion in the 2023 Farm Bill to help the next generation of producers access farmland.
Mazariegos-Anastassiou says that if there is any legacy that her generation of farmers leaves behind, it is that “the decision to go into farming isn’t such a hard one. If there is that interest and love and desire to work with land to grow food, that it doesn’t seem like you have to sacrifice some sort of livelihood to do that.”
Listen to the full conversation with Verónica Mazariegos-Anastassiou on “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” to hear more about the path that led to her career in agriculture, what else she hopes to see from the 2023 Farm Bill, and the “beautiful parts” of being a young farmer.
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Photo courtesy of Henry & Co., Unsplash