Interim Executive Director / Deputy Director
Organization: National Young Farmers Coalition
Location: New York
Current work in response to COVID-19: Martin Lemos of the National Young Farmers Coalition is learning the ins and outs of the stimulus package and what it means for small, new, young, and people of color farmers – and how the package can do better.
I’m excited to be a Castanea Fellow because… I’m eager to find a community that knows where I’m coming from and can help me connect the different and varied experiences I’ve had
into our shared vision for a just food system.
What is the challenge your work addresses?
My challenge is to reframe the lens of health to embrace the value and wisdom in using food as medicine. How do we shift the focus of health and wellness to consider food as the most powerful preventative medicine, and to use it along with – and maybe instead of – pharmaceuticals and other medical interventions? This will represent a huge culture shift in the U.S. Most of us are only a couple of generations removed from a culture that treated food with great respect and as a source of healing. It’s possible to bring that tradition back into our culture.
What strategies are you using to address the challenge?
I hope to focus on communications and outreach within my own organization. As a farmer-led organization, we’re always considering how we can reshape the national conversation about agriculture, and fighting for space where farmers can have a voice in that conversation. We provide farmers with opportunities to advocate mentor and build community. Our strategy is to create even more space for farmers – and that means challenging ourselves to include more farmers, and to put that intention into practice in all of our work.
Part of what I know makes me as a person of color interested in engaging is having a space where we can think beyond just the short-list of issues that are considered “agriculture issues.” I think it’s a challenge for all of us in the food movement to think “bigger picture” and talk about all the so-called tangents that actually define our food system: immigration, social justice, housing, public health. I think there is a tremendous opportunity to build alliances with groups that we may not have considered as potential partners in this work, as well as dialoguing with the private sector. The farmer voice is not only needed in agricultural and food policy, if we want meaningful change, we need to make sure our perspective bridges across different disciplines and communities. We need to get better at bringing in different perspectives, translating our work, and building a bigger coalition while not compromising on the difficult conversations.
What does success look like to you?
We don’t need to imagine any more when it comes to the food system. Success would be having all of us be on the same page about the realities of our food system, the fact that we’re in a climate crisis, the fact that exploitation is embedded in our food system, and the reality that our food system is not very healthy. A first step is aligning on the facts and the reality of where we are. We have a surplus of imagined ideas and myths – I think success is integrating new perspectives and hearing from new voices, and ultimately, getting real about what’s happening.