Changemaker Award

Changemaker recognition is a new effort from the MOSES community to celebrate emerging leaders in the organic farming and food movement who creatively overcome systemic challenges in order to nurture a thriving agricultural future for all. This is the second year the MOSES Board of Directors has recognized people with this award.

See the Changemakers’ presentations on YouTube.

Recommend a Changemaker

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Congratulations to the 2021 Changemakers:
Hannah Breckbill
Sustain DuPage

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2021 Changemakers

Hannah Breckbill

Humble Hands Harvest
Queer Farmer Convergence

Hannah Breckbill has a share in Humble Hands Harvest, a worker-owned cooperative farm in Decorah, Iowa. Photo submitted

By Hawthorn McCracken

At last year’s MOSES Conference, I was very proud to see so many farmers and food advocates from diverse backgrounds featured as speakers, honored guests, and Changemakers. As I left the conference that year for my long, snowy drive home, I thought of all the fantastic farmers who had helped me along my way in learning more about organic, sustainable, and socially just agriculture. I knew just who I wanted to see on that stage next year. I’m pleased to announce the MOSES Board of Directors is recognizing Hannah Breckbill of Humble Hands Harvest in Decorah, Iowa, as a 2021 Changemaker.

Hannah and her farm partner, Emily Fagan, have been hosting the Queer Farmer Convergence on their farm since 2018, creating a real place-based LGBTQ+ community in the rural Midwest. They have not only worked tirelessly to create a successful, organic CSA that is owned cooperatively, but have also taken time to share their space with queer farmers from all over the country (and world), and to build a vibrant, healing community. The Queer Farmer Convergence (QFC) has been an absolute blessing for me and other LGBTQ+ folks in the farming world.

Queer farmers are often left out of the discussion of family farms and small agriculture, and they experience higher rates of isolation and mental health struggles than other rural populations. Without the resources of urban cultural centers, and surrounded by images of cis-het nuclear family farms, queer farmers sometimes feel invisible. Young queer folks struggle to see themselves or find affirming role models in traditional agricultural communities. Rural queer visibility is essential to preventing isolation and deaths of despair from suicide or substance abuse. The resources and social connections gained at QFC are invaluable to the LGBTQ+ farming community.

I spoke with Hannah about her experiences as a queer farmer and a community organizing force.

How does it feel to be recognized as a Changemaker?
I feel like I am representing this huge group of people—queer farmers—that I want to represent well! Growing up Mennonite in an urban area gave me the experience of representing my faith as a whole, which made me need to understand my faith fully. Having minority identities helps a person dig into what it means to represent that community. As a Mennonite, believing in the power and importance of community decision-making was really important to me, rather than just individual agency. It’s all about building relationships as community and deciding together how we can build God’s kingdom, right here on earth. I feel like the practical call of faith is to make a world that we know is good.

You are a founder and co-owner of Humble Hands Harvest, an organizer for the Queer Farmer Convergence, and president of the Driftless Chapter of the Young Farmers Coalition. What other projects are you involved in right now?
I’m on a lot of boards right now! I’m part of Iowa Food Hub, Oneota Co-op, and the Women Food and Agriculture Network. I also work as a Land Access Navigator for Renewing the Countryside.

When you founded Humble Hands, did you envision it becoming a national model of queer cooperative farming?
Absolutely not! I had no idea. The Queer Farmer Convergence started because of my location. I started farming just kind of by default. I wanted to do something real and get out of my head after four years of college. I ended up in Decorah. Decorah is a place that knows how to do community. I felt welcomed and engaged in this rural space, which I know many rural spaces don’t have the kind of vitality that’s in Decorah.

Despite loving this community, there aren’t many queer people here. So, I was and have been lonely as a queer person. QFC was born from me crying to a friend over the phone about this, and her saying “OK, so what we need to do is find more queer farmers for you to hang out with. So, you’re gonna start this Instagram account and host this event on your farm.” And it totally worked! Other rural queer people were feeling this way. To just have our intersecting identities seen and celebrated was so important.

Can you tell me more about your farm’s cooperative ownership model and how it intersects with queer identity?
Our farm became a cooperative not because of being queer per se, but because we needed a structure that would support what we wanted to do. We were two people working and owning a business together. We wanted to figure out a way to do it equitably, and a way that we could invite new people on easily. The worker-owned cooperative model just made so much sense.

It’s just in the intervening years that it’s felt like, yes, this is totally a way to queer farming and business ownership and land ownership, and to get away from those models that are based on wealth accumulation. That is not my goal when I’m trying to farm. My goal is stewarding the land, building community, and building soil. The interest in passing down land to descendants needs to change because it’s destroying our rural spaces; all of these absentee landowners are controlling land now because of this wealth accumulation, hetero-nuclear model of land ownership. We see a cooperative as a way to hold capital together and do the work that we want to do together.

What leadership resources and skills would you like to share with other folks interested in organizing?
Most of what I know how to do is a result of just showing up to other people’s things. I’m well known in my community as the young person who shows up to things. I’ve learned a lot of organizing skills from Liz Rog. She’s one of the people who turned Decorah into the type of place that drew me in. She’s very focused on making people feel like they matter, like they belong, like they’re needed.

I want to acknowledge that there’s already community infrastructure that people have built. There’s so much potential in rural spaces for peoples’ ideas. Taking advantage of that as a young person and using it is vital. I see a lot of young people going into rural spaces and just hanging out with people their own age. People joke that one of my good skills is sitting through meetings with older people. That has served me well in being able to make my farm into something relevant for my community. Which is honestly the most important thing to me.

Learn more about Humble Hands Harvest cooperative farm and the QFC.

 

Hawthorn McCracken is a long-time volunteer at the MOSES Conference, currently working in communications for various farmer-led organizations. 

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2021 Changemaker

 

Sustain DuPage

Lindsay Zimmerman & Andrew Ruggiero Van Gorp

Lindsay Zimmerman and Andrew Ruggiero Van Gorp are part of Sustain DuPage, a unique “open-sourced” nonprofit that supports sustainability efforts in DuPage County, Illinois. Photos submitted

By Clare Hintz

MOSES is proud to honor Lindsay Zimmerman and Andrew Ruggiero Van Gorp as Changemakers. The Changemaker recognition is a new effort, launched at the 2020 MOSES Conference, to celebrate emerging leaders in the organic farming and food movement who creatively overcome systemic challenges in order to nurture a thriving agricultural future for all.

Lindsay and Andrew are LGBTQIA2+ community organizers for Sustain DuPage, a nonprofit building agricultural and nutritional literacy on falsely ceded Potawatomi and Illiniwek territory west of Chicago, Illinois. One thing that makes Sustain DuPage unique is that they host a range of intertwined projects, such as traditional skills, policy reform, art activism, cooking, ecological restoration, and more.

They have used their nonprofit status as a platform for collective impact, hosting community organizers and their projects, so that each activist does not have to seek nonprofit status in order to work towards their goals. Each initiative links to the others under the broad vision of a resilient county. Sustain DuPage has a rich philosophy of working towards what they call a “bioregional culture shift,” addressing social justice as inseparable from environmental health.  In their work, they strive to incorporate intersectionality, active listening, horizontal organizing, appreciative inquiry, and other tested methods of interpersonal sustainability, and it shows in the changes they’ve been able to make on the edge of Chicago’s urban sprawl.

Lindsay, you are the organizer of Sustain DuPage’s garden project. What has your experience been like?
This has been a life-changing experience for me; I now feel connected to my community in ways I didn’t think possible prior to this project. For many of us, myself included, this garden has acted as a heartbeat pumping a renewed sense of life into this place we consider “home.”

We focus on transformative experiences and education for our attendees, yet this project has completely transformed me as well. Hands-on education and community have always been core to our mission, and I am beyond pleased watching these things thrive in our garden through our amazing volunteers. Everyone is on equal footing donating both their time and effort to their individual ability, and through those common bonds of hard work and sharing we have created both an amazing community and a growing space. The goal has been to grow gardeners and not simply grow food, and I consider it a success every time I inch closer to making my job redundant as the volunteers grow in experience and comfort in their skills. So many of them have branched off and helped create church and school gardens, home gardens, taught their friends, developed aero and aquaponic home systems, or are planning their own farms.

Right now, the biggest challenge for me is stepping up to meet the demand that people have for this project and growing it sustainably in 2021. I’m looking to develop more formalized training, workshare programs, expanding our market, and other additions that will hopefully empower our community while honoring the methods and spirit that have brought us this far.

Andrew, you started Sustain DuPage back in 2013. Did you have an idea it would grow to become what it has today?
I think sometimes people believe that being a community organizer or activist is beyond their reach, but it’s really pretty simple! If we care about our community and we see a need in the community, we can just ask the people we know if they’d like to collaborate with us to solve that need. I am humbled every single day to see what can happen when we get our community together to collaborate and then (more importantly) get the heck out of their way as they launch into action! To answer your question, I guess when I started this journey, I had no idea how powerful community really is. I thought I knew, but I really didn’t. I’m still learning deeper and deeper that, when we work together instead of competing, our potential is legitimately limitless.

Lindsay, how has the pandemic intensified your work over the last year?
The pandemic fundamentally shifted our farming project in many ways. Besides what we give back to our community, our produce is usually given to our cooking program. However, with gatherings restricted, we pivoted to a direct-market model instead. That pilot program was very successful and is now becoming a permanent part of our project moving forward. Hands-on education is fundamental to our garden mission, and we saw a lot of new gardeners reaching out for information, experience, and training. Our garden also became a place for outdoor therapy. People suffering from isolation, uncertainty, and frustration found a community in being able to have a place to come to regularly and still socialize safely outdoors. Managing the influx of new people was difficult with safety restrictions, but ultimately helped grow interest in our mission.

Andrew, in a lot of the photos you post of yourself in the Sustain DuPage Garden, you’re wearing a special bandana. Can you explain what this means to you?
Of course! Once upon a time, little 12-year-old Andrew was driving in a car with his family jamming to Moody Bible radio when the host began saying some really damaging things about belonging to the LGBTQIA2+ community and making it seem like those relationships were not only wrong in God’s eyes, but evil. I remember how distressed and sad I felt that my own God would punish me just for having a crush on a boy classmate. I was devastated. And, then along down the highway drove a little Toyota and on the back bumper there was a little stripe under the license plate. It wasn’t obnoxious—there were no words, just a little stripe of rainbow. That little stripe of rainbow saved me from some really scary thoughts that day.

It is so important for queer folks to not only be honest about who we are with friends and family, but until we live in a world where kids aren’t made to fight tears just for being different, we must ensure that we are as loud and visible as possible that it is a great thing to be gay. It is a gift from God to be gay because just like everybody else, we are sent here to share a unique and rich perspective that our communities can learn from. We get to teach people how to play with gender and laugh about sexuality in really healthy ways that most people feel forbidden to do.

So, long story short, I wear a rainbow bandana as often as I can in the garden so people inside and outside of our community can see that gay folk are here and ready to shovel alongside everybody else! I think it’s especially important for us to be openly queer in the farming community, which can sometimes be saturated with archaic behaviors of stereotyping and discrimination.

Clare Hintz runs Elsewhere Farm, a production perennial polyculture supporting winter and summer CSAs and other markets in northern Wisconsin. She serves on the MOSES Board of Directors.

 

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