Meet the farmer and advocate of the year

Farmer of the Year
Nyema Clark (r) of Nurturing Roots holds her award next to presenter Diane Dempster (l), Tilth Alliance Board Chair. Photo courtesy of Watershed Productions.

 

A food justice champion, a visionary farming leader and a tireless supporter of Washington farmers were honored for their work at the 2023 Tilth Alliance conference in Port Townsend. The annual awards honor “exceptional individuals contributing to a sustainable food system.”

Farmer of the year

Jenson, co-owner of SisterLand Farms in Port Angeles (with Eli Smith and Benji Astrachan), was named the organization’s farmer of the year. The Alliance called Jenson “a true visionary leader on the North Olympic Peninsula, with their work having profound impacts on community far and wide.” Highlights included the farmer’s dedication and passion for no-till regenerative growing practices and habitat conservation, as well as forming a local farmers’ collective, creating a kitchen waste and compost recovery program, and offering affordable food and education to the community.

Similar praise came earlier this year from the North Olympic Land Trust, which had selected SisterLand as its 2023 Farmer of the Year. “There’s a tiny farm in Port Angeles, WA that grows enough food to feed around 45 families per week, processes tons of kitchen waste each year, donates fresh food to area food banks, and employs and educates a growing team of future farmers—each a minority in their field. And they do it all on less than one acre of regeneratively grown vegetable beds,” the Trust’s statement said. From compostable packaging to giving workers voting power in decision making, the queer-owned and operated farm “really exemplifies what this future of farming can look like in our community.”

Originally from Tennessee, Jenson’s local accomplishments include co-founding the Clallam Grower’s Collective, a network of farmers, gardeners, and volunteers, which inspired a similar group’s creation in neighboring Jefferson County.

Tilth presenter Mark Bowman, a neighboring farmer and sustainable agriculture coordinator for Clallam and Jefferson counties, said in the awards announcement that he finds it refreshing to see the farmers “get together and tackle issues at a grass-roots level.” This included implementing the county’s first compost pickup program. “They pick up food waste from restaurants and homes, bring it to the ranch, let it compost, and apply it to their beds as fertilizer. They also take the composted goat manure and wood chips from my ranch and apply it to their farm beds,” Bowman wrote.

SisterLand, whose motto is “Grow Radically,” also runs the Dignity Project, a nonprofit program that brings on one new agricultural laborer a season to learn the ins and outs of running a small agricultural business while being paid the same hourly rate as regular employees, Bowman wrote.

Jenson helped start the Port Angeles Food Not Bombs chapter, joined the public school’s equity team and joined the farmers market board of directors, according to the SisterLand website.

“At the end of the day, Jenson is a grower of crops,” Bowman wrote. “But more importantly, Jenson is a server of people, making it their priority “that each individual is treated fairly with love, care and dignity.”

Advocate of the year

Nyema Clark, founder of Nurturing Roots farm, was named Tilth’s advocate of the year. Clark was honored for “dedication to food justice, providing quality sustainable food free to her community, sharing her business knowledge, advocating for land access, and empowering her community to learn gardening, food preservation and cooking,” the organization’s statement said. “Nyema and Nurturing Roots have worked tirelessly to spread the joy and education of good food and to advocate for food justice.”

Diane Dempster, who presented the award, said that Clark, who grew up in the Rainier Beach neighborhood, started working for her community at a young age.

“Ray Williams, one of her middle school teachers, remembers her as a good student, creative and driven. She now serves with him on the board of the Black Farmers Collective and the South Seattle Community Food Hub Advisory Council,” Dempster said. Clark learned about the science of plants from her mother, sold herbal seasonings at Pike Place Market, and founded Avenue South, a culinary and body products company.

In 2016 she founded Nurturing Roots Farm on an overgrown P-Patch in Beacon Hill, “born out of her desire to create a space where people from diverse backgrounds could come together to learn about, and engage with the food system” and recognizing the lack of access to fresh, healthy and culturally relevant food. Nurturing Roots produced fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, providing fresh produce to schools, food banks and community organizations, while also offering educational programs and workshops.

“Nyema is committed to enriching underserved communities; her strength and overall goal is founded in youth empowerment and community economic sustainability,” Dempster said.

With very short notice, Nurturing Roots had to leave its original home, Dempster noted, and Clark is lobbying the city for a new location. With her drive and dedication, Dempster said, we know she’ll succeed.

Lifetime achievement award

Kate Ryan, a “thought leader, a mentor and a rebel” who recently retired as an agriculture program coordinator with the Washington State University extension, was honored with Tilth’s lifetime achievement award.

“Kate has worked tirelessly for over 40 years advocating for farmers in Washington and offering educational programming and experiences for established and beginning farmers in Snohomish County,” the award read. “She was integral in helping to create and maintain the Cultivating Success, Growing Groceries, and Preserving the Harvest programs, which were adapted statewide. She thoughtfully provided resources to farmers, including helping link them to land.

“Kate has in-depth practical knowledge of farming and an ability to identify critical knowledge gaps within the farming community and create learning opportunities to address them. She has a love for agriculture and farming and has worked to share what she knows to support farmers. The work, dedication, help and honesty she has exhibited over her career is outstanding. She has created a lifetime legacy.

Tilth director Melissa Spear said in her remarks that Ryan’s career “closely mirrors the remarkable growth of organic and regenerative farming practices in the Snohomish Valley, in Washington state and beyond.And this is no coincidence. She has been on the leading edge of these movements both as a teacher and a practitioner…

“Throughout her career, Kate has been unwavering in her commitment to supporting growers who serve the land, their neighbors, and their communities. This wasn’t always a comfortable stand to take in our calcified institutional settings, but she has never been one to mince words or let anyone turn her around. I myself have been the beneficiary of her blunt critiques.

“She has been so effective precisely because she didn’t let institutional barriers get in her way. She is an independent thinker, a curious learner, a tireless campaigner, and, above all, a doer.”

Also in this issue

America’s missing ingredient: Are beans “the new chicken”?

Are beans “the new chicken”? Kim O’Donnel explains how to prepare these versatile, affordable, sustainable nutritional heroes

Community Voices: A Conversation with Food FARMacia

A unique collaboration provides fresh local produce to patients at two Seattle medical clinics via the Food FARMacia program.

Cedar Grove turns food and yard waste to garden gold

Cedar Grove turns tons of food scraps and yard waste into rich “no-waste” compost.