Castanea Fellowship Selects 24 Visionary Food Justice Leaders for its 2023 Cohort

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The Castanea Fellowship today announces its 2023 cohort, 24 of the boldest leaders transforming our country’s food web. The cohort includes farmers, chefs, community organizers, entrepreneurs, storytellers, policymakers and more from across 14 states, territories and tribes, drawing from the voices from Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous, immigrant and queer communities. Chosen from among hundreds of applicants for the two-year fellowship, the 2023 cohort is the third to be launched since the Fellowship’s founding in 2017, and the first since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Castanea Fellows usher in fresh new ideas at a time when America’s food system is in desperate need for transformation. 2023 has seen a handful of large corporations reap enormous profits while the average household grocery bill skyrockets and food workers are exploited. Racist policies and predatory lending have robbed farmers of color of more than $300 billion in land and wealth, and the average producer today must take a second off-farm job just to make ends meet. Meanwhile, in neighborhoods across the country, communities are working harder than ever to be able to grow and access food that is healthful and culturally resonant.

“Society is hungry now more than ever to break the hold of injustice on our food,” said Krysten Aguilar (she/her/ella), Executive Director, Castanea Fellowship. “Castanea Fellows reshape narratives, markets and policies by nourishing a new kind of power, one rooted in culture and relationships that reach across many communities.”

During their two year program, Castanea Fellows nourish their visions for change by taking part in several week-long leadership development experiences, exchanging knowledge with Black and Indigenous food leaders in Ghana, Hawaii and North Carolina. Fellows will build an international network of peers and philanthropic allies, and also receive a $40,000 award to advance their work.

Meet the 2023 Castanea Fellows:
Anita Adalja (all pronouns) | Not Our Farm Project | Albuquerque, NM — Farmer and farmworker organizer; preserving the dignity, safety and financial security of workers through on-farm safety education and storytelling.

Annette Hollowell (she/her) | Foxfire Ranch | Oxford, MS / New Orleans, LA — Entrepreneur, lawyer, multigenerational Black landowner; facilitates peace work, community healing, interracial and intergenerational spaces for rest and learning on her family’s century old farm.

Carmen Cortez (she/her) | Community Agroecology Network, Tierras Milperas | Watsonville, CA — Rural community and farmworker organizer; working in California’s Central Coast region and in Southern Mexico to uphold traditional foodways, land knowledge, and collective forms of governance.

Celina Ngozi Esekawu (she/they) | Ala Soul Earthworks, Dry Bones Heal Bottomland | Bremond, TX — Black-Igbo farmer, farmer organizer, ancestral wisdom keeper; locally growing Afro-diasporic crops and connections to ancestral spirituality while building economic and political power for Black farmers nationwide.

Cris Izaguirre (he/they) | New York, NY — Farmer, writer, educator and queer trans advocate of Nicaraguan Afro-Indigenous ancestry; weaving the threads of writing, performing arts, and agroecology to create space for queer, trans BIPOC visions in the food system.

Cynthia Wilson (she/her) | Women of Bears Ears | Diné (Navajo) Nation — Organizer, storyteller, nutritionist, environmental scientist; restoring indigenous women’s matrilineal roles as decision-makers and culture bearers to address the environmental, cultural, nutritional and spiritual health of land and the people.

Duane "Chili" Yazzie (he/him) | ToohBAA | Shiprock, Diné (Navajo) Nation — Farmer, community leader, environmental justice advocate; tapping ancestral regenerative farming and food preservation practices to address food insecurity across New Mexico.

Georie Bryant (he/him) | Symbodied LLC | Durham, NC — Chef, farmer, activist; working to remove barriers and build market opportunities for Black and Indigenous producers.

Hải Võ (they/them/Hải) | QTViệt Cafe Collective, Asian Refugees United | Oakland, CA — queer 2nd generation Việt cook, seed saver, cultural artist, writer, community organizer; bringing together ancestral foodways, the arts, and intergenerational connection to restore wholeness in communities impacted by the trauma of displacement.

Jesús Vázquez (he/him) | Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica de Puerto Rico | San Juan, Puerto Rico — Organizer and educator; using the tools of political and agro-ecological education, storytelling and direct farm recovery to unite coastal, rural and urban food justice advocates across Puerto Rico.

Katherine Un (she/they) | National Young Farmers Coalition | Winthrop, WA — Farmland access advocate, rancher; developing grassroots leadership and campaigns nationwide for equitable access to farmland.

Larisa “Lala” Jacobson (she/her/all pronouns) | Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust | Kingston, NY — farmer, story steward, climate justice advocate; working to support policy and ancestral practices that call carbon back into the soil during the age of climate crisis, and redefine who we know as Land, and support BIPOC youth and elders' agency in relationship with land, food, and farming.

Laurell Sims (she/her) | Urban Growers Collective | Chicago, IL — Urban farming visionary, former James Beard and Bold Food fellow; building financial and policy pathways for access to urban farming across the United States and worldwide.

Mariela Cedeño (she/her/ella) | Manzanita Capital Collective | Oakland, CA — Economic opportunity advocate; catalyzing new models of investment that center and uplift BIPOC entrepreneurs, farmers, land stewards, and community-based organizations.

Melanie Allen (she/her) | Black Farmer Fund | New York, NY — Power builder; leading efforts that invest in capital, technical assistance, and community network building for Black farmers, land stewards, herbalists and other food actors across the Northeast.

Melissa Acedera (she/her ) | Polo’s Pantry | Los Angeles, CA — Filipina community organizer and mutual aid visionary; addressing the intersection between food justice and housing insecurity with community food value chains between cooks, drivers, suppliers and advocates.

Navina Khanna (she/they) | HEAL Food Alliance | Oakland, CA — Movement leader, catalyst, first generation South Asian American; building nationwide movements between producers, workers and communities to change the very foundations of the food value chain.

Neil Thapar (he/him) | Minnow | Oakland, CA — Justice weaver; working directly with farmers, and BIPOC communities and organizations to develop the legal tools and infrastructure needed to acquire and collectively hold land and financial resources.

Rafael Aponte (he/him) | Rocky Acres Farm | Freeville, NY — Afro-Puerto Rican farmer, educator and activist; grounding community social justice and healing through the sustainable production of vegetables, eggs, and meat for low-resourced families.

Roberto Nutlouis (he/him) | Nihikeya | Diné (Navajo) Community, Pinon, AZ — culture keeper, farmer, organizer — leading programs for local Diné communities to enhance the traditional lifeways that still exist on Dzil Yijiin (Black Mesa), showing that food security and water security can co-exist through ancestral knowledge.

Rubi Orozco (she/they) | La Semilla Food Center | El Paso, TX / Anthony, NM — Poet, educator, organizer, farmworker descendant; revitalizing heritage foodways rooted in community-based wisdoms and processes of the Paso del Norte region.

Tosha Phonix (she/her) | Agriculture for Community Restoration Economic Justice & Sustainability (ACRES), National Black Food and Justice Alliance | St. Louis, MO — Black farming champion, community organizer; strengthening Black businesses and farming operations in St. Louis through improved capacity and resources.

Whitney Jaye (she/they) | Southeastern African American Farmers Organic Network (SAAFON) | Lithonia, GA / Wilmington, NC — farmer-organizer, land steward, coastal Carolina lineage keeper; re-centering the ancestral legacy of farming and fishing in Black Southern lifeways through farming education, farmers market management, and cooperative development.

Xochitl Bervera (she/her/ella) | Near Future Farms | Apalachicola, Florida — Queer Latinx organizer, criminal justice reformer, oyster farmer, land steward; experimenting with new ways of building delicious, sustainable, and BIPOC rooted food value chains on the Gulf Coast.

Follow Castanea on social media: #Castanea2023
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Media contacts:
Adam Hymans, Resource Media —
Krysten Aguilar, Castanea Fellowship —

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