Champions of Change Blog

  • Land and Opportunity – A Life in Agriculture

    Fabiola Nizigiyimana

    Fabiola Nizigiyimanis being honored as a Future of American Agriculture Champion of Change.

    I was born in Rwanda and raised in Burundi, where the majority of people are subsistence farmers who sell their crops for domestic consumption. Farming has always been a vital part of my life, as I was a farmer in Burundi before I came to the United States in 2007 as a refugee. I am extremely grateful to the U.S. government for providing me with the opportunity to come here, and since my arrival in the U.S. I have been given many more opportunities. In 2010, I began farming at the Flats Mentor Farm (FMF) in Lancaster, Mass., which is a program of World Farmers that gives free land the first year to immigrant and refugee farmers who want to continue farming. I started out with a single plot of land, but I now farm two acres.

    Another opportunity came my way in 2012, when I applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Environmental Quality Incentives Program as a new farmer, under the guidance of Maria Moreira from the Flats Mentor Farm, and was successful in acquiring a high tunnel. I am thankful to the Department of Agriculture for providing me with this opportunity, as the high tunnel has benefited me in countless ways. My high tunnel allows me to start growing my produce earlier in the season so I can go to the marketplace two to three weeks before everyone else, and allows me to continue growing my crops after the season ends. In 2013, I was able to sell my crops wholesale through our Immigrant Farmer Marketing Cooperative thanks to my high tunnel. Along with the additional income it provides, it also gives food security to me and my five children. Here, as in Burundi, I farm to help both my family and my community.

    In addition to being the first African woman refugee farmer at FMF to own a high tunnel, I am also a founding member of the Immigrant Farmer Marketing Cooperative. This cooperative helps the farmers at FMF to sell their crops for a profit while also bringing the community closer together. I personally help the community in other ways, such as through translation. Many farmers speak little English or none at all, and because I speak five languages I am able to act as a translator if any problems arise.

    I heard about the Flats Mentor Farm from members of my church in Worcester, Mass., where I have lived since arriving in the U.S. I tell my friends that through farming and its learning opportunities, they will be able to support themselves and our community in terms of food security. I currently have two other jobs to provide for my family, but farming is my favorite job.

    Although it is my favorite job, farming is not easy and many hardships can and do arise. However, I love farming and the opportunities it provides are invaluable. I am very happy and honored to have been selected as a Future of American Agriculture Champion of Change, and I hope that this nomination will show farmers both at FMF and around this country that their hard work is irreplaceable, and also that it might inspire others to begin farming as well.

    Fabiola Nizigiyimana is a leader in her community, a mentor farmer at Flats Mentor Farm in Lancaster, MA, the owner of a high tunnel from NRCS-USDA program, a founding member of the Immigrant Farmer Marketing Cooperative, and a single mother of five who speaks five languages.

  • Food for Thought: Sustaining Diversity in Agriculture

    Bill Bridgeforth

    Bill Bridgeforth is being honored as a Future of American Agriculture Champion of Change.

    I’m grateful to the Obama Administration for implementing the Champion of Change Award to recognize the hard work and sacrifices of so many everyday people who have dedicated their lives to making a positive difference in their communities. My passion is maintaining diversity in American agriculture.

    I am one of 13, eight boys and five girls, raised on the family farm. I have vivid memories of working for Papa (Grandfather), chopping cotton, picking cotton, and mowing grass. At the age of 12, I knew I wanted to be a farmer. Mother (Elizabeth), who passed away when I was 15, Daddy (Darden), and Willie (my stepmother), all exemplified the proper work ethic and contributed to my confidence to become a leader.

    If there has ever been a segment of agriculture that should be on the endangered species list, it is for sure the black farmer. As of 2007, black farmers made up 1.3 percent of the farming community, with an average age of 60.3. The average farm operator in the United States managed 418 acres while the average black farm operator managed 104 acres. Black farmers are typically underrepresented at the local USDA Farm Service Center both when it comes to program enrollment and program utilization. The National Black Growers Council (NBGC) was organized to be a resource for USDA and agricultural corporations desiring to network and gain insight on how their policies and programs impact the black row-crop farmer.

    The National Black Growers Council advocates for black row-crop producers while encouraging diversity. The NBGC hosts several Model Farm Tours in various locations. On the Model Farm Tour a member of the NBGC invites the public to his or her farm to demonstrate precision agriculture, biotechnology, and how the participation in USDA programs all work together in building a successful business.  The Model Farm Tour also serves as a forum the Extension Service to review the more basic aspects of crop production such as pest control, fertilization, and seed selection.  Most farm tours will include a variety trial to demonstrate new technology for pest management and yield enhancement. Irrigation, crop insurance, and grain storage are also discussed.   

    Internationally, the NBGC has consulted with emerging farms in Africa. Our task is to help emerging farmers become commercial farmers by embracing proven and safe technology used in the United States. Representatives of the council have traveled to South Africa, Kenya, and Gambia to observe local agriculture. We have had the privilege of collaborating with International Services Council of Alabama to host African agribusiness men and women at Bridgeforth Farms. 

    All this matters because agriculture matters.  I am passionate about leaving a legacy for future generations and helping to be part of its bright future.

    Bill Bridgeforth is a Senior Partner at Darden Bridgeforth and Sons; he is Chairman of the National Black Growers Council, and a member of Alabama A&M University’s Agriculture. Advisory Board. Also, Bill is on the Executive Board of the Council of Agricultural Research, Technology, Extension, and Teaching (CARET). 

  • Working for the Future of the Beef Community

    Adam McClung

    Adam McClung is being honored as a Future of American Agriculture Champion of Change.

    It is an honor to be selected as a Champion of Change for the Future of American Agriculture. Agriculture has always been a part of my life and has impacted me down to my very core.  It is inspiring to know that we live in a country that still values agriculture and the people engaged in it at the highest levels.

    My family has been actively involved in agriculture - specifically beef production - for generations.  But the farther down my own road I have traveled, the wider I have wanted my path to be. That is to say, the more involved I have wanted to become.  So, while keeping my feet firmly planted in agriculture, I started branching out to work advocating for and representing the agricultural community at the policy table and in the news. With so many people now generations removed from the farm, it is important for those of us who are farmers and ranchers to be a voice for our industry and neighbors – for the hard work, dedication, and passion we all share.  I wanted to be a voice for these salt of the earth folks that feed a world. It is now a growing, deep passion I have to make sure that beef producers and the agricultural community’s ideas, farms, ranches, education, production, and markets remain viable.

    I have spent the past decade involved in and leading an organization the represents the beef community – the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association. I cannot begin to explain the satisfaction that comes from touching the lives of so many involved in agriculture. I get to do this by representing producers’ ideas and experience, working to enhance their business climate, building trust with their consumers, providing education so as to allow them to make better decisions within their operations, and making stronger leaders and building new ones.  All this work not only paves the way for safer agricultural products for a growing population, but also assures sustainability for the ever-changing agricultural community.     

    I also wanted to instill this passion in young producers and their families who are getting started or becoming a part of agriculture. So within the Arkansas Cattlemen, we created a young producer program that spends the course of a year exposing new and beginning farmers and ranchers to the tools they need to be leaders - not just for our organization, but leaders for agriculture as a whole. When they finish the program we hope that they know and understand the need for agricultural leaders not only on a national level, but in their local communities as well.

    Adam McClung is the Executive Vice President for the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association, a non-profit organization. The Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association has been working for the cattlemen of Arkansas since 1959 and is devoted to improving the cattle industry through producer education and representation on legislative and regulatory issues. 

  • Preserving A Way of Life

    Adae Romero

    Adae Romero is being honored as a Future of American Agriculture Champion of Change.

    My grandparents were my teachers. They taught me how to watch the seasons, interpret the clouds, and how to feel the earth so it would produce.

    I was born and reared in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, as a granddaughter of a Pueblo farmer. At an early age, I realized the needs of Indigenous farmers and tribes are often overlooked in the development of agricultural law, programs and regulations, so I attended the University of Arkansas College of Law’s Food and Agricultural Law Program, where I received a Master of Laws degree, an advanced law certification, and worked with the Indigenous Food and Agricultural Initiative.

    Now I consult for First Nations Development Institute, a leading Native American nonprofit whose mission is to strengthen American Indian economies.  There, I monitor food and agricultural law and its effects on Indigenous producers, write about the inclusion of Indigenous farmers in federal programs and lawmaking, and work with Indigenous farmers across the country to strengthen agricultural economies and develop healthy food and agricultural businesses. 

    Cochiti Youth Experience, Inc. (CYE) started out as a conversation around a table after a traditional Pueblo feast. The mothers, daughters, sisters, and grandmothers sat together, speaking of their grandparents, times passed, and connections that they hoped to pass down to Cochiti young people. Those gatherings, when people sit and eat, talk and laugh, no matter how often they occur, have their way of changing people.  After that night, we took action.

    Two months later, we were incorporated as a non-profit, with a six woman board, and began conversations with the Tribe about how to administer community programs focused on food and agriculture and how to best incorporate Cochiti values into programs.  None of the original board members, aside from one, were seasoned in non-profit operations, but each one of the original board members knew Cochiti and wanted to ensure that Cochiti children knew that same place.  All our best stories and favorite Cochiti stories occurred in the fields.  We wanted our children in the fields.  

    We were all the daughters and granddaughters and wives of Pueblo farmers.  The board consisted of one lady who was considered the most knowledgeable traditional Cochiti cooks, knew Cochiti prior to the construction of roads, and remembered it as a place that was completely self-sustaining.   Another board member ran a 4-H program for over twenty years before 4-H existed as a national program. Another was the first ever state director of health that came from a Pueblo.  Another was a young high school junior.  I had just returned from law school.  Together, we made CYE work.

    After Tribal Council approval, CYE began to grow farmers. We began farmer mentorship programs that paired young people with traditional Pueblo farmers over the course of a growing season.  We began traditional cooking programs so young people know how to harvest, store, process, and cook the traditional crops. CYE has worked with Keres Children’s Learning Center (KCLC), a Montessori language immersion pre-school, to begin a farm to pre-school program.  We conducted a food assessment of our community, the state of Cochiti agriculture, and our basic food economy.   Today, we are in our third year of work and have supported twenty new farmers in Cochiti.  Most importantly, we have demonstrated to others outside Cochiti that our Pueblo producers have timeless value to not only Cochiti, but the nationwide agricultural community.

    Undoubtedly, Cochiti would have thrived and continued without the existence of CYE.  But now with CYE, the conversation about agriculture, food, and its importance to the future of our small Pueblo is a much more conscious one.  The times have changed our small community tremendously, but CYE hopes to ensure that our commitment to agriculture, our farmers, our children, and our lands does not change but is strengthened one seed, one conversation, and one growing season at a time.

    Much like my grandparents who offered me lessons about the world, Cochiti, and my responsibility through each seed sown and each word spoken, I hope to demonstrate to future generations of people that the timeless lessons of our Indigenous ancestors inform both our world today and our future.

    Vena A-dae Romero (Cochiti/Kiowa) is the co-founder of Cochiti Youth Experience, Inc., on her home reservation located in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico. She currently consults with First Nations Development on Indigenous Food and Agricultural projects including that in Waimea Hawaii and throughout the United States. She resides on the island of Lanai, Hawaii. 

  • Proudly Supporting Farming and Ranching Families

    Desiree Wineland

    Desiree Wineland is being honored as a Future of American Agriculture Champion of Change.

    My story in agriculture begins out of the ashes of September 11, 2001, and because of a promise my husband Cal and I made to our two boys, who were at the Pentagon Day Care that day.  This promise transplanted our family to the heart of America, Nebraska, where the heart of agriculture beats strongly.

    Although we did not know much about agriculture when we arrived, we completed UNL's Cow/Calf College, then the Nebraska Ranch Practicum and were selected for the Nebraska LEAD program, which opened up the world of agriculture to us. 

    For the past three years we partnered with the American Chemical Society to help promote education in agriculture and chartered a high school ChemClub utilizing our vineyard as a field lab to promote "STEAM" STEM with an A for Agriculture! Veterans Vineyard is also in its third year enrolled in the USDA/NRCS- Conservation Stewardship Program and hosts the Veterans BBQ in the Vineyard on every Armed Forces Day.

    In 2011, to assist rural small family farms and ranches, we established American Butchers, a small USDA meat processing facility and butcher shop that is able to support these legacy farms through helping them market and sell their farm raised products that have been handcrafted into delicious artisan meats and shipped across the country. American Butchers is also a proud supporter of the Farm to School program. 

    It is humbling to be recognized for this Champions of Change award because change is truly like agriculture and does not happen in a vacuum. A seed is planted and only sprouts because of many external factors working in concert. For me, this award represents the teamwork of an entire state and love of my family. Together we will bring this recognition back to Nebraska to share it with all those who made this possible. We are still a work in progress, and know that with this continued support the possibilities are endless.

    There are so many who contributed and I would like to begin with those closest to home and work outward. Thank you Cal, Calvin, Austin and even Honor. Your love and support keeps me growing every day. Thank you to everyone involved in the following organizations for your nourishment touched our lives and made this possible: Nebraska LEAD program, LEAD 31, UNL extension centers, Beaver City Farm Service Agency, Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Cattlemen, Gallup EAS, FFA, Nebraska Diplomats, Google, Women In Ag, ISG, V-WISE, VFW and the American Legion and most importantly our neighboring communities who placed their trust in us and allowed us to grow and help sustain others in agriculture.  

    Thank you to USDA for providing the tools that extended all the way out to our farm in rural Nebraska. The USDA website shares collected knowledge, which provided steadfast answers to how to manage droughts, extreme heat waves, and early frosts.

    Another great partner with USDA is Small Business Administration, and they also deserve a thank you, especially to all those who filled their website with answers to every question I have had about running a business.

    And to the "First Team"- Mrs. Obama, thank you for planting a garden and showing not only your daughters but the world the value of agriculture and importance of nutritional foods.  

    Mr. President, I have read and learned about so many other champions and the work each one contributes to making our Nation continue to grow and I intend to connect and to learn from many of them. Thank you, Sir, for all that you do to reach out and recognize our citizens.

    Desiree Wineland is originally from Sweden and now resides in Nebraska. She retired from the United States Army in 2009 and has since started two small rural businesses, American Butchers and Veterans' Vineyard & Winery.

  • Nominate a White House Champion of Change for Veteran Entrepreneurship

    Since taking office, President Obama has been committed to upholding our sacred trust with America’s veterans and wounded warriors. As the President stated in his last State of the Union address, “We’ll keep working to help all our veterans translate their skills and leadership into jobs here at home.  And we all continue to join forces to honor and support our remarkable military families.” Entrepreneurs and small businesses are a big driver of our national economy, and veterans offer our country a set of skills that make them uniquely well suited for success as entrepreneurs.  Research demonstrates that veterans are at least 45 percent more likely than those with no active-duty military experience to be self-employed and are twice as likely to succeed. According to the most recent U.S. census data, nearly one in 10 small businesses are veteran-owned.  These businesses generate over $1.2 trillion in receipts annually and employ nearly 5.8 million Americans.  It is in the best interest of our country to tap into this incredible resource of veterans and find ways to help them succeed as entrepreneurs who fuel job growth and expand opportunity for all Americans.

    Recognizing the need to fuel this entrepreneurial spirit in our service members, the President launched Boots to Business – an intensive entrepreneurship education program for transitioning service members to learn how to start a small business. To date, Boots to Business, delivered by the Small Business Administration, has trained more than 6,000 transitioning service members on how to start a business, while also informing them of the network of resources available to them, such as access to capital.

    However, this is only one step along the path to providing opportunities for veterans to become successful entrepreneurs. Therefore, the administration would like to honor those who have supported this effort by serving as examples and demonstrating their desire to help other veteran entrepreneurs.

    Today, we’re asking you to help us identify and honor veteran entrepreneurs and veteran spouses who are entrepreneurs or organizations that support veteran entrepreneurs by nominating a Champion of Change for Veteran Entrepreneurship by midnight on June 24th. Nominees may include:

    • Veterans who have started a for-profit or non-profit business.
    • Veteran spouses who have started their own business.
    • Organizations that support veteran entrepreneurs by providing them with skills, capital, or other necessary resources.

    Click on the link below to submit your nomination (be sure to choose Veteran Entrepreneurship in the "Theme of Service" field of the nomination form).

    Nominate a Veteran Entrepreneurship Champion of Change

    We are looking forward to hosting this event and to highlighting the achievements of the veteran entrepreneurship community.

    Robert McFarlin is a White House Fellow at the National Economic Council.