Every year, we honor change-makers, trailblazers and those giving back to their local food and agricultural communities. From innovative farmers to grassroots organizers, these are the people who give us hope for the future. Selected from nominations that pour in from every corner of California by people like you, this year’s honorees represent the changing face of California farming and a commitment to equity, access and long-term sustainability. Please join us on Tuesday, February 28th at 6pm for the awards ceremony, part of this year’s California Small Farm Conference. Now, without further ado, meet the 2023 California Farm Champions:

New Farmer of the Year:
Miguel Avendano, Siembra y Cosecha Farms

A shining example of growth and a collaborative attitude, Miguel Avendano of Siembra y Cosecha Farms has managed to kick start his own farm business while working alongside partners to tackle hunger in his community. By partnering with local and state organizations, he’s made his operation a key part of emergency food distribution programs reaching schools, families, and organizations in Tulare County with culturally appropriate food especially for rural regions comprised of farmworkers and other immigrant and under-served communities. Miguel is always open to talk and explore new opportunities, opening up his farm to better educate government officials, TA providers and potential buyers, all of this despite language barriers. We can’t wait to see where Miguel goes next and are looking forward to the growth of Siembra y Cosecha.

Legacy Farmer of the Year:
J.R. Organics

Do the math: Joe Rodriguez Sr. has been working the land for more than 65 years. His son, Joe Jr., who currently leads this family enterprise in Escondido, CA and who transitioned the farm to organic way back in 1986, has put in more than 45 years. Michael, Joe’s nephew, has more than 14 years under his belt. Add in all the other family members who contribute to the farm in some way or another, and you’re looking at an eon of cumulative experience and commitment. From producing their own compost to managing a CSA to selling direct at farmers markets all over Southern California, J.R. Organics is the true embodiment of an agricultural legacy passed on through the generations.  We commend them and all they bring to their community and wish them many more years to come!

Farmer Advocate of the Year:
Patricia Miller

Patricia Miller is a farmer, activist and food systems catalyst. From co-founding the California Black Farmers Rising to BUFA: the Black Urban Farmer’s Association, Patricia has worked locally in her community to bring more local and organic foods to young people and families while also teaching the next generation how to grow their own food. As one nominator described, “she is the epitome of the term ‘ag-tivist’ and highly deserving of this honor and recognition.”  Patricia has advocated for better food in Stockton’s schools, worked diligently to make critical connections between youth of color in Stockton with their food and increase their choices for healthier foods through policy advocacy within the school board.

There is no stone Patricia is not willing to turn over and no hand she is not willing to shake or place she is unwilling to go to be the change she wishes to see in the world and that is why she is CAFF’s 2023 Farm Advocate of the Year!

Food Business of the Year:
Fresno BIPOC Produce

Keng Vang is the founder and owner of Fresno BIPOC Produce (FBP), a new food hub that includes over 90 BIPOC (Black Indigenous and People of Color) Farmers in and around Fresno County. Keng comes from a Hmong family of farmers himself and upon graduating from Fresno State he decided to give back to his community by working with hundreds of Southeast Asian, Latinx, African American and other Asian Pacific Islander farmers through the Asian Business Institute and Resource Center. Seeing that there was a tremendous demand for a full-fledged business with the will to support the farmers and most importantly the agility to act quickly within the marketplace, Keng launched Fresno BIPOC Produce and in a short time, Keng has grown sales and has established relationships with institutions at the local level in the Central Valley and beyond. Fresno BIPOC Produce is an important shining example of what can happen when investments are made in local small farmers in Fresno.

 

Farmers Market Champion of the Year:
Andy Naja-Riese, Agricultural Institute of Marin

As the Chief Executive Officer of the Agricultural Institute of Marin (AIM), Andy and his team not only oversees nine Certified Farmers Markets across the Bay Area with nearly 400 farmers, food purveyors, and artisans from 43 California counties, but he’s helped raise the bar for what a farmers market organization can be. To help alleviate food insecurity in the most marginalized communities, AIM has brought mobile markets directly to elderly and economically challenged communities, and communities of color, who struggle with healthy food access, while growing the CalFresh Market Match program. He also oversaw COVID-era response with subsidized produce boxes, opening up new direct markets for growers while feeding those hit hardest by the pandemic. He also led AIM in supporting the creation of a new training program for beginning farmers and food-markers, with a special focus on BIPOC entrepreneurs, and continues to lead the charge in the ongoing development of a Center for Food and Agriculture based in San Rafael, CA.

Climate Smart Farmers of Year:
Foggy Bottom Boys

For six generations, this family farm has operated in the foggy bottoms of the Eel River Valley on the far northern coast of California. Today, Foggy Bottom Boys is led by Thomas and Cody Nicholson Stratton, with help from their father, grandfather and even their little son. This duo is bringing new regenerative practices to their farm, while improving upon time-tested traditions. Their highly-diversified farm produces organic dairy, beef, lamb, poultry, eggs, and even yarn made from their sheep, goats and angora rabbits. From cover crops to maintaining wild habitat for biodiversity to ensuring a pasture-based approach, they pay close attention to the health of their land and animals. Today they’re experimenting with new methods, such as no-till,  to increase their soil organic matter even further. With a strong focus on their local community, the Foggy Bottom Boys are working hard to ensure a healthy future for even more generations to come.

The Pete Price Farm Policy Champion of the Year:
Brian Shobe, CalCAN

For years Brian has worked at the intersection of farming and climate change as Deputy Policy Director at CalCAN: the California Climate and Agriculture Network, pushing for state funds that help growers adopt practices that sequester carbon in the soil. But more recently, Brian took the lead on a project confronting one glaring and growing consequence of climate change–wildfire–and sought ways to empower livestock managers to help mitigate risk. Brian’s advocacy for prescribed graziers made waves and had significant impact in supporting broad-scale fire prevention and climate smart veg management efforts across the state and was instrumental in getting “prescribed wildlands grazing” language included in last year’s CA Budget Act which will provide funding for prescribed grazing projects across California and empower the growth of established and new land and livestock businesses.