Hannah was given the 2021 MOSES Changemaker award for her work building Queer Farmer community and her advocacy for beginning farmers’ land access. Below are the remarks Hannah gave upon receiving the award on February 22, 2021. For anyone reading this who would like to support Hannah’s changemaking work by ensuring that she, for one, has solid shelter to live in, head on over to our house fundraising page. Or, you can send your gifts directly to any queer and/or BIPOC farmers, especially beginning ones!
Thank you MOSES for recongizing the work of queer farmers this year! The intersection of the identities of queer and farmer was not something that I realized was important, or even a thing, eleven years ago when I started farming, and now MOSES is recognizing us and lifting us up–that’s a huge change in a short amount of time!
I want to acknowledge that there are so many people doing revolutionary work who aren’t being recognized in this space. I get to be visible as a changemaker because of my various privileges: my farm is fairly well-established now, I’m white, I have access to community wealth, I’m college educated, I like to speak publicly. There are so many equally visionary, radical, & hardworking people who aren’t given a platform like this because they don’t have the luck and privilege that I have. Many of them are not even farming because of the structural barriers up against them.
Because of my privileges I have access to more resources. With more resources comes more visibility and more power to make change. And if I have that power I believe I have a responsibility to use it. So just as I as a white person have a responsibility to work toward racial justice, I know that I as a landowner have a responsibility to work for land justice.
I made up a definition for “queer” as a verb about a year ago: to queer something is to deeply question norms and assumptions about it; to build relationships and systems that meet our needs better.
A lot of my work as a farmer-activist over the past few years can be summed up as an effort to queer landownership.
I didn’t grow up in agriculture so I entered the field in a good position to question norms and assumptions. For example, the assumption that land is an investment that an owner should profit from and pass on to heirs was not even on my radar when I started farming–I somehow naively imagined that land stewardship rather than profit and extraction was the goal. Nor did I guess that landowners renting out their land, rather than farming it themselves, is a norm.
The system as it’s set up leans toward a dystopia in which landless farmworkers generate wealth for absentee owners while rural communities shrivel up. Confronted with that I’ve developed an alternative, farmer-centered ethos that drives my work.
I farm because I want to build connections, through food, between people and the earth that we rely on. I want to regenerate this soil that’s been mined from for decades. I want to plant trees that will come into maturity after I’m dead, and I want new farmers to be able to take my place, enough of them that they can share in the stewardship and abundance of this place without overworking or exploiting themselves.
Notice that there’s not much about financial returns in my vision. I’m sure a lot of us share a lot of these values, but the economic system that we inhabit insists on profits and on the commodification of land. My question is: why do we accept that system? I think it’s time to queer it and build an economy that serves farmers and communities and soil.
My farm business, Humble Hands Harvest, accessed land ownership through a creative compilation of business structures and loans and gifts, and our LLC is organized as a worker-owned cooperative so that we have a structure to bring new farmers on equitably and ultimately for any one of us to be able to exit the business without the whole thing falling apart. We’re finding that this system building that’s outside of the norm requires trust and adaptability and lots of care for each other, and there is a lot more work still to do just within our one business on 22 acres. We haven’t figured it all out yet!
And our one small farm, even once we figure it out, is not going to transform the world on the scale that we need! We are happy to be a model and to share what we’ve learned, but ultimately we just need so many more of us, working together to restore diversity in our landscapes and in our communities.
MOSES does important work educating farmers and helping us thrive despite the dominant systems. But to support the people who’ve succeeded in hacking their way through the structural barriers to be able to run diversified organic farms isn’t the only work there is to do. We need to work on building a new system as much as we need to work on surviving the current one. I think that ultimately it falls to each one of us to consider our places in the system and to figure out what we can do to queer it.
If you own land, like I do, can you come up with ways for the farmers after you to be able to farm that land without interest-bearing debt? Because the more pieces of land we can make possible to access for people who don’t come from wealth, the more empowered and diverse and thriving our communities can be.
I’m going to bring this back to the Queer Farmer Convergence, the event that I started because I needed to be in community with people who share my identities and who are interrogating systems of oppression in agriculture. I’m so grateful that this community can hold me accountable to the changemaking work that I know needs to happen, and together we have so much more energy and power than one of us has in isolation.
Thanks again to MOSES for recognizing queer farmers as changemakers–we are making change because we need the change, and our queer perspectives help us imagine new systems that can meet everyone’s needs better. I also want to say that the work that everyone at this conference is doing in organic and sustainable agriculture is so essential to the future of our society and our planet. We need all of us, and we need more of us, so let’s break down those barriers that keep new farmers from accessing land. It’s time to queer agriculture!