The Fruits of Justice A Year of Renewed Movement Building


Seeds of Abundant Leadership

Krysten Aguilar, Mahfam Malek and Chan Cain
The Castanea Fellowship Team

Keeping up with dozens of the most impactful food justice leaders takes stamina. Curious about what helps keep the Castanea team energized?

Pomegranates. Yes, pomegranates.

Nature’s powerhouse, the pomegranate boasts a long list of compounds that protect the heart, and its root system is built to endure the harshest droughts. It’s a fruit designed to survive. Yet for all their grit, pomegranates hold space for joy and celebration among their flavorful seeds—much like the Castanea Fellowship.

As violence, division and scarcity threaten our collective immune system, we at Castanea believe we need leaders who are joined together, who cultivate reservoirs of resilience for and with our people. Part of being resilient is continually immersing ourselves in a delicious vision of the world to come. That’s what truly liberatory leaders do: as Ruha Benjamin would say, they make change irresistible.

Often when we talk about leadership development and pipelines, our sector focuses on finance, communications, networking or change management. While these skills are all incredibly important and necessary, the joy, the irresistibility comes from the space of liberation. It comes from art and poetry and cooking meals together, from showing up wholly as our brilliant and messy selves, from accountability to our beloved communities, and from that place deeper than community, that place of, as bell hooks said, communion with one another. This is the space where movements fruit. This is the nourishing work of Castanea.

2023 saw us welcome a new cohort of leaders, Castanea’s third group of fellows since its inception, and our first since pandemic restrictions were lifted. With energy and urgency, Cohort 3 has cultivated new strategies for food sovereignty. This retrospective is a love letter to what the fellows have begun to create with us and a thank you to you, our community, for your enduring support.

In Freedom and Possibility,

Krysten, Mahfam and Chan

We can’t only critique the world as it is. We have to build the world as it should be to make justice irresistible.”
— Ruha Benjamin

Gathering Power:

Cohort 3 as Ancestral Healers

Castanea Fellowship cohorts stand as a testament to the power of collective nourishment—the role that communities, networks, organizations play in shaping our most transformative leaders. Fellows are chosen for their cohort lovingly and rigorously by their movement peers, ensuring that a rich tapestry of perspectives and experiences elevate the group from a mere collection of individual leaders into a powerful chosen family.

The vibrance of Cohort 3 marks a significant milestone for Castanea. With Cohorts 1 and 2 paving the way, the third class of fellows selected in 2023 marked a rebirth for the program. We’ve dubbed Cohort 3 the Ancestral Healer class; they infuse a signature sense of heritage, spirituality and identity into their systems-change work. Land, language, capital in the hands of Cohort 3 have become medicine.

Melissa Acedera
Polo’s PantryLos Angeles, CA
Anita Adalja Not Our Farm Project Alburquerque, NM
Melanie Allen Black Farmers Fund New York, NY
Rafael Aponte Rocky Acres Farm Freeville, NY
Xochitl Bervera Near Future Farms Apalachicola, FL
Georie Bryant Symbodied LLC Durham, NC
Mariela Cedeño Manzanita Capital Collective San Francisco, CA
Carmen Cortez Community Agroecology Network Tierras Milperas Watsonville, CA
Celina Ngozi Esekawu Ala Soul Earthworks
Dry Bones Heal Bottomland
Bremond, TX
Annette Hollowell Foxfire Ranch Oxford, MS /New Orleans, LA
Cris Izaguirre Farmer & ConsultantNew York, NY
Larisa “Lala” Jacobson Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust Kingston, NY
Whitney Jaye SAAFON Lithonia, GA / Wilmington, NC
Navina Khanna HEAL Food Alliance Oakland, CA
Roberto Nutlouis Nihikeya Diné - Navajo Community, Pinon, AZ
Rubi Orozco La Semilla Food Center El Paso, TX /Anthony, NM
Tosha Phonix ACRES St. Louis, MO
Laurell Sims Evanston Grows Chicago, IL
Neil Thapar Minnow Oakland, CA
Cynthia Wilson Women of Bears Ears Diné - Navajo Nation
Katherine Un National Young Farmers Coalition Winthrop, WA
Jesús Vázquez Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica de Puerto Rico San Juan, Puerto Rico
Hải Võ QTViệt Cafe Collective,
Asian Refugees United
Oakland, CA
Duane "Chili" Yazzie ToohBAA Diné - Navajo Nation

A Kaleidoscope of Community

Identity Across Fellows and Alumni, 2019-2023

14 Black and
8 Asian and
Pacific Islander
8 Multiracial
6 Indigenous
3 White
Gender Identity

Fellow Highlight:

Annette Hollowell — Foxfire Ranch

Over the past few years, Annette has managed Foxfire Ranch on land that has been owned by her family for more than a century; land her family has lived on for even longer. In North Mississippi Hill country, Foxfire Ranch is a place for visitors to center rest, relationship build, and connect with one another. Annette has not only served her community as an event venue, but has started to surrender to the call of her ancestors to learn and tell the stories from that area – sharing black land legacies and cultural legacies in her podcast We are the Promised Land. She organizes with blues musicians and traditional roots music players, leaning into questions around creating spaces for black and brown people to learn and reconnect with our own unique regional music in the South. The Castanea Fellowship has allowed Annette to forge relationships both with other Black land heirs and people who have been dispossessed of their ancestral territories. The fellowship helps her place these voices front and center in her storytelling.



in Purpose

How much farther could our movements go if leaders were held accountable to rest as much as they are expected to deliver results? How much more effective would our organizations be if leaders were judged on their ability to show reciprocity as much as they are called to excel at fundraising?

If we are going to build an irresistible new world, our movements and our organizations need spaces that allow us to show up as our whole selves; systems that see joy as strategy. At Castanea, one of the key practices of liberatory leaders is to co-create and open themselves up to spaces to heal and to dream. The fellowship is designed to build the muscle of reflection, to reduce isolation, to deepen relationships to effect change. A powerful leader is one with the skills and the community to cultivate an ever renewing sense of purpose, with the support and care that builds true stamina that social change demands.

Our most important tool to awaken liberated leaders and build a web of power for justice are place-based immersions. Far more than a site visit, immersions are week-long experiences we design together with global allies building food sovereignty in their communities. They allow fellows to travel, rest and stretch their imaginations and build lifelong partnerships with local food leaders from Hawai’i to Ghana to North Carolina.

In 2022, Cohorts 1 and 2 spent time in Kaua'i, Hawai’i with our friends at Mālama Hūleʻia at the ancient Alekoko Fishpond. Together the fellows learned while they worked, helping to restore Hulē‘ia watershed in ways consistent with traditional Hawaiian beliefs and practices. In 2023, Cohort 3 worked with descendants of the Stagville Plantation in North Carolina. Every immersion is crafted with the intention of showing up as good guests, honoring the people and places we visit, joining with partners in experiences of sacredness and wisdom. To each community, we bring resources, granting to local organizations and supporting justice-aligned small businesses during our stay.

I feel like this retreat gave me more opportunities and time to build stronger relationships with other fellows whom I had been wanting to connect with more. Among each of these people, we found profound intersections in our work, upbringing, and life experiences and it felt really good to feel seen and connect in that way.”
— Anita Adalja, Cohort 3

Durham, North Carolina — 2023

In September 2023, Cohort 3 embarked on their first community immersion in Durham, North Carolina. Georie Bryant, a current fellow and Durham native, set the stage with a visit to Stagville Plantation, once worked by his enslaved Igbo forefolk. As Occaneechi Saponi leader Vivette Logan-Jeffries explained, drawing fellows’ attention to the fingerprints of children encased in 19th-century brick, this site of ancestral memory also holds urgent lessons for justice advocates today: a mere five miles away sits Durham Correctional Center, where young Stagville descendants labor under our nation’s unjust prison system.

During visits to EarthSeed Land Collective and Sankofa Farms afterward, grief took space to blossom into inspiration: fellows witnessed the prolific work efforts of descendants to dismantle corporate and carceral control of their neighborhoods and build a thriving food web in its place. The Whistle Stop Tour and afternoons kayaking on the Saxapahaw River provided moments of joy needed for the immersion’s deeper lessons to take root.

“My top takeaway is the time we spent hearing and experiencing the impact of colonization on Black and Indigenous people on the land,” shares Ngozi Celina Esekawu. “Speaking from my experience as a Black person from the South, these narratives are hard to hear and acknowledge, land and cultural loss is hard to accept, our entanglement in the forced removal of Indigenous people is unaddressed. I appreciated that our group of various radicalized people from ancestries from across the globe sat and witnessed these stories unfold. From my perspective, it's a powerful gesture in the midst of deep anti-Black, anti-African sentiment that envelops our lives.”

Immersed in purpose, Durham is where our loose network of leaders first re-emerged as fellows—inseparable, unstoppable, renewed.




Rest, connection and imagination have allowed the Castanea Fellows and alumni to birth changes that reverberate throughout the food value chain. Movements for racial and economic justice, the freedom of workers and family farmers, climate technology rooted in ancestral knowledge and more—all draw renewed strength from the emboldened presence of the fellows. Here are just a few of their stories:

Fellow Highlights

Hải Vo — QTViệt Cafe Collective

Queer and Trans Vietnamese (QTViệt) communities are often ostracized from food rituals in the Vietnamese community. Hải saw the need in their Bay Area community for a space to build deep, intergenerational relationships with elders and honor their ancestral practices. They established the QTViệt Cafe Collective, a cultural hub to heal and uplift QTViệt narratives through art, food, and intergenerational relationships. Emerging artists and creatives gather at the hub to honor, appreciate, and showcase their identities through cultural expression. Here, art takes forms that are as wide and welcoming a spectrum as the expression and identities of Hải’s community. Focused on culture building and preserving cultural practices, Hải has collected and shared recipes and stories for community members to honor ancestral food ways, ultimately planting seeds of legacy for future QTViệt generations.

Starting right after the 7 year anniversary of QTViệt Cafe Collective, Hải joined the Castanea Fellowship. The opportunity to learn from other queer and BIPOC folx with strong connections to family and ancestry has generated new inspiration and frameworks for inclusive cultural healing across communities. Together with other fellows, Hải is learning new ways to weave personal and ancestral stories into larger narratives of liberation and systems change, deepening their cultural organizing work so that others can experience joy, rest, and true community across the QTViệt diaspora.

Rubi Orozco — La Semilla Food Center

We cannot separate food from the land and its history. However, our society’s over-reliance on the industrial food system threatens to leave communities without the space or access to grow, learn, and develop their local food traditions. As a storyteller and poet, Rubi’s work focuses on uplifting community-rooted narratives around foodways as a source of resilience, interconnectedness, and cultural practice. Rubi is the Director of Storytelling & Development at La Semilla Food Center where she works with community members and artists to tell local stories that challenge greenwashed food system narratives and promote a shared understanding of food policy. She also leads the Chihuahuan Desert Cultural Fellowship, supporting those whose work revolves around the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem.

Throughout her time as a Castanea Fellow, Rubi has taken the opportunity to nourish new relationships and collaborations, hatching new ideas for strategic storytelling, ancestral knowledge exchange and community-controlled funding streams.

Mariela Cedeno — Manzanita Capital Collective

Throughout the years, it’s become clear philanthropies alone will not resource our movement to produce meaningful economic change. In 2022, Mariela co-founded the Manzanita Capital Collective, where she seeks to shift capital and power from the existing paradigm of grant makers, lenders, and investors to community rooted models that center the needs of impacted and marginalized communities. Connecting Black, Indigenous, and POC-led groups and values aligned funders, the Collective advocates for meaningful investments in rematriation, Indigenous and regenerative land stewardship, and resilient food systems to create and support local, regenerative and equitable economies.

Mariela’s work reimagines what futures are possible. And through the Castanea Fellowship, she has collaborated with other fellows who do similar work, exploring concrete opportunities, deepening their collective vision, and stepping into a place of rest for expansive thinking in liberation. What a world can look like when economic development is determined by collective community power and interconnectedness, when we move toward repair and transformation.

Additional Spotlights

Carmen Cortez featured in This Community Garden Helps Farmworkers Feed Themselves. Now It’s Facing Eviction (Civil Eats, May 2023)

Rafael Aponte featured in This Fund Is Investing $20 Million to Help Black Farmers Thrive (Civil Eats, May 2023)

A Lineage of Transformation:

The power of Castanea extends far beyond our current fellows to encompass all alumni. The Fellowship actively invests in previous cohorts, with a vision to weave together a living community and establish a lineage of transformation. In 2023, we moved $27,000 to Cohort 2 alumni in their work toward irresistible justice. The funding enabled these past fellows to present at movement conferences, publish books and catapult their work through media and creative campaigns. Most notably, Cohort 2 was able to reunite on Ayeko Farm, lands stewarded by Cohort 2 alum, Deepa Iyer:

Maybe it was the luck of the draw, our synergy or personalities, but there is something deeply profound we have together. This gathering was exactly what we all needed. There was more togetherness, more comedy, more fun….I love how we have the ability to talk about money, food policy, and the nonprofit industrial complex, and it doesn’t feel too heavy. I love how we can laugh and have completely irreverent conversations and have a sacred experience together all at the same time.”
— Deepa Iyer, Cohort 2

Resource Stewardship

In 2023, Castanea's total organizational budget was $1.3 million.
With 24 fellows, we provided 2 week-long in-person immersions, a series of virtual learnings, individual coaching, 1:1 support for fellows, and so much more, at just $54,000 per fellow.
$480,000, or 37% of our budget, is awarded directly to fellows. Each fellow receives a $20,000 stipend per year over our two-year program.
We moved $27,000 directly to alumni to support their connection, gathering, and narrative and communications work.
At each place-based immersion, we provide at least $20,000 to local community partners, farmers and visionaries to grow the food justice work in the places we visit.



We wouldn’t be able to move into the juicy space of joy and justice without our funder partners.

Thanks to your continued investment in building liberatory leaders, we are able to provide tailored individual support, increased and thoughtful visibility, priceless networks and place-based immersions crafted with intention and solidarity. Your support is a key ingredient to hold fellows in a powerful collective of people who, quite simply, have their back.


Generous foundations and donors who’ve chosen to remain anonymous

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