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Brianna Bowman
National Farmer Training Networks Manager
New Entry Sustainable Farming Project
August 29, 2017

Brianna's story gives us chills of recognition and inspiration. The New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, an initiative of Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, works to strengthen local food systems by supporting new farmers. Brianna points out that many new farmers are also new Americans - immigrants who are looking to put their skills to work in a new home. Her awareness of the challenges that come with that remind us that we need to continue shedding light on such issues, in the agricultural community and beyond. 

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

I was volunteering at the African Community Center in Denver, CO, where I worked with recently arrived refugees to teach job readiness and other skills important for successful entry into life in America. One afternoon, we were going around the table and practicing introducing ourselves and describing our professional history. One by one, men and women from Bhutan, Burma, Senegal and the DRC described their job history. With only one exception, they all described agricultural work, detailing how they provided for their families and communities. Some recounted specific experiences working with draft animals, or specific crops they enjoyed growing. These stories affected me deeply. I began to think about how we were working to match these people with jobs in hotels, in meat packing plants, in factories, and I felt saddened knowing that their placement in these industries would erase something about their identity, fail to honor their cultural heritage, and remove them from a kind of work that sustained their mind, bodies and communities. I realized that food is a powerful tool for development, and that growing and preparing food can be a labor of transformation and healing, of self-determination and self-preservation.

How did you get your current good food job? 

I got my first position at New Entry from Good Food Jobs! I had recently graduated with my MA in International Development with a focus in Sustainable Agriculture, and was looking all over for jobs, trying to find the best fit. I was debating whether to work internationally or domestically, and grappling with anxiety around how to do good work in a global context of development work shaped by a history of colonialism, oppression, and good ideas gone wrong. I found the idea of working in domestic agriculture - to support the training of new farmers, many of whom are New Americans - to be a great way to combine my interests and make positive improvement to the lives of people living close to me.

When I applied for the job at New Entry, I spent a lot of time on my cover letter, and carefully described how my previous work made me a good candidate using the STAR method: Situation, Task, Action, Result. I then completed an assignment from New Entry, and asked peers and professors I respected to review my work and critique it before I submitted. From there, I had two interviews, and I've been working with New Entry ever since. I maintain an active network of peers and mentors who advise me on important professional decisions, and also who know me personally. I'm a big advocate of bringing your whole self to the workplace and seeking out mentors who will embrace and support who you really are!

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job? 

Threads of inquiry around social and environmental justice, appropriateness of development interventions, and curiosity around how to co-create a better world while dismantling old systems all led me to food systems work. I received my undergraduate degree in Peace Studies from Goucher College, which really trained me to challenge existing systems and to identify their origin, the ways they are rooted in or perpetuate injustices, and how we can transform or dismantle those systems to create a more equitable society. I remember taking a class that centered around inequities in modern educational systems as a legacy of slavery. The food system is fraught with similar histories.

After college, I served an AmeriCorps term at Community Mediation in Baltimore, MD. The skills related to transforming a conflict situation into a space for communication, intention setting and planning for action, helped prepare me for some of the complexities of food system work. I also became more comfortable in discomfort. There is much joy in food and the communities that spring up around it. However, the root of how agriculture is structured in the United States can be troubling and uncomfortable to explore. This work is necessary and an ability to work towards comfort with discomfort and grief has served me in this exploration.

Lastly, I have interned and volunteered on many farms, and have an enormous respect for anyone who chooses to pursue agriculture as their life's work. This respect fuels me every day. People make things that heal our bodies arise from the ground, and they do it with an enormous amount of effort and care, for very little reward. Farmers are environmental stewards, artists, scientists, businesswomen, and just incredible people. I'm so happy to work to support them!

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?

When looking for work, I was discouraged by many people who told me that my dream was "too specific" or that "there aren't jobs in that industry." Allowing their doubt to affect me was a misstep that I would avoid if I had the chance to do it again. What helped me persevere is the knowledge that I had only ever followed the things I believed in, to the point that the only thing I was qualified to do was exactly what I wanted to be doing.

Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?

When giving a presentation, do three things: 1. Tell people what you are going to tell them. 2. Tell it to them. 3. Tell them what you told them.

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?

The US agricultural system is in a moment of dramatic change. With declining farmer numbers, fewer people with agricultural histories, and an enormous transfer of land looming on the horizon as older farmers retire, it is a unique moment to engage with food systems work. As we train new farmers in this landscape, we can make decisions together about what we want the future of agriculture to look like, which do not necessarily have to reflect systems of the past, and can prioritize the voices of historically oppressed people. The poor, people of color, farm workers, women. I am excited by conversations around justice in agricultural labor, around cooperative farming for new farmers, particularly immigrant and refugee farmers, and about re-valuing farmers and food. I think we are looking at food and asking where exploitation is taking place (workers? land?) and then trying to solve those problems.

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?

Flight vouchers!

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