Celebrating Women Changing the Food System Panel

October 22nd marked our 5th annual Forging Farmers event, where we celebrated inspirational community changemakers, all women, with an interactive panel, emotional awards ceremony, and a delicious organic farm-to-table buffet.


We want to send a huge thank you to all the wonderful people who made the event possible – stewards, volunteers, staff, sponsors, and attendees! Thanks to all of you, the night was full of creative energy, tenacity, enthusiasm to transform our community food systems and build cross-cultural alliances for agroecology.

Panelist Speakers:

We heard thought-provoking responses from our panel of women leaders on questions such as: In your work and experience, what challenges have you encountered around patriarchy in food systems? How can we creatively dismantle patriarchy for current and future generations? Panelists also gave insight into what types of local and national policies would begin to address racial and gender inequity in access to land, resources and capital. They spoke to citizen engagement and direct action that could lead to the changing of political will. These powerful women also reflected on the question: How do you personally regenerate, cultivate a sense of balance, groundedness and well-being in the midst of actions and work that can be at different moments both life-affirming and overwhelming?

Our panel of women changemakers was inspriational! From left: moderators Kate Sylvan and Leah Atwood; panelists Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak, Clara Nicholls, Maya Blow, Shu-Chen Cheng, Joelci Dannacena; translator Gustavo Oliveira

Clara Nicholls is a lecturer in the Latin American Studies Program at UC Berkeley, teaching “Perspectives for Sustainable Rural Development in Latin America”. She also teaches at Santa Clara University, as well as in various universities in Latin America and Europe. She was the founder and Director of the Latin American Doctoral Program on Agroecology sponsored by the Universidad de Antioquia in Colombia and SOCLA. She is president of the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology (SOCLA), a network of professionals to promote agroecological alternatives to industrial agriculture. Clara is the author of three books and numerous scientific articles about agroecology, ecologically based pest management, resiliency to climate change and rural development.

Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak runs the Devil’s Gulch Ranch on the Northern California coast with her husband and children. At the ranch, the family focuses on raising winegrapes, pigs, sheep, and rabbits for meat and skins. Myriam is the International Program Director for DG Educational Services, Founder and director of HaitiCoffee.com, Inc and a USAID Farmer to Farmer Volunteer in Haiti and El Salvador with Partners of the Americas, Winrock International and HaitiCoffee. In Haiti, she has helped with Makouti Agro Enterprises, a small-scale agribusiness that unites farmers and promotes sustainable income generating agriculture.

Maya Blow is an herbalist and classical homeopath practicing in the East SF Bay Area. She studied herbal medicine at the California School of Herbal Studies in Northern Ca. and completed four years of homeopathic medical school at the Institute of Classical Homoeopathy in San Francisco. Maya and her husband run a small organic farm where they incorporate both permaculture principles and biodynamic farming methods. They produce a variety of seasonal fruit and vegetables, medicinal herbs, pastured eggs, raw dairy products, and honey, as well as humanly raised meat. Their goal is to learn to be self-sustaining and tread lightly on the earth sharing what they learn with the local community, especially people of color. Besides her passion for farming and holistic medicine, Maya is an artist, mother of two, and avid crafter. She teaches nature studies, gardening, herbal medicine making and many other homesteading and DIY classes. She has been studying, practicing, and teaching art for two decades and continues to draw her inspiration from her love of nature. Some of her hobbies are gardening, animal husbandry, foraging for wild food, fermenting and canning, making herbal medicine, cheese making, and dying with plants.

Joelci Dannacena has been a militant organizer with The Landless Rural Workers Movement of Brazil (MST) sector of the MST for over twenty years, with degrees in economics and cooperative administration. Her main tasks have been the organization of agroindustries for the produce of agrarian reform settlements. She is currently hosted here in the Bay Area as one of several young organizers sent by the MST to deepen relations with US-based movements for food sovereignty, agrarian reform, and anti-oppression.

Shu-Chen Cheng ( aka “Suejen”) is transitioning from a career in nursing to becoming a small-scale farmer. Suejen spent her childhood selling her family’s vegetables at the local market, helping feed hens and ducks and chasing pigs on her family’s farm in Taiwan. When she was around 10, she writes “more and more factories moved in and less and less farmland remained. Clean rivers that I used to fish in turned yellow, and as time went on there were no more crabs, frogs or fish… I witnessed my family’s change from farming to industry. Now that I am 37 years-old, I want to be the one in my family who goes back to the life that I miss so much.” Suejen has been a nurse for most of her adult life, and has seen first-hand the adverse health effects of pesticide use and a heavily industrialized food diet. She joined the MESA program this year as a start to transitioning into small-scale, organic agriculture. As the first MESA steward from Taiwan, she hopes to educate farmers in sustainable methods, and to share with her community the importance of supporting local farmers.

Congratulations to our 2015 Forging Farmer Awardees!

Community Changemaker: Rowen White

Rowen is a Seed Keeper from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne and an activist for seed sovereignty as well as farmer, mother, community leader and educator. She is the director and co-founder of Sierra Seed Cooperative in Nevada City, California. This cooperative helps provide access to regionally adapted seeds to the area and empowers seed stewards. Rowen is also on the board of directors of Seed Savers Exchange, is a seed educator with Native Seed/Search Seed School in Tucson, Arizona, and is the co-author of Breeding Organic Vegetables: A Step by Step Guide for Growers.

Educator: Clara Nicholls

(see panelist bio above)

Host Mentor: Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak

(see panelist bio above)

Emerging Leader: Abraham Yidana

Abraham was a steward with MESA’s US Training Program in 2014, and since has created his own NGO “the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA)” in his home in Ghana. The goal of his work is to help farmers achieve food and income security through sustainable agriculture. Abraham’s Poultry Project has introduced diversified livestock farming to his community, adding another element to the traditional crop-production-based livelihood. This project focuses on improving local chicken breeds, training farmers in poultry production, and ultimately adding an alternate source of livelihood for farmers.

Check out photos from the event and from our Exit Seminar!


Forging Farmers Celebration and Exit Seminar 2015!


Thank You to our Event Sponsors and Donors:
The Acme Bread Company, Arizmendi Bakery, The Cheese Board CollectiveBerkeley Bowl, Frey Vineyards, Gordon Biersch Brewery, Lagunitas Brewing CompanyGreenLeaf, Lotus Foods, Lundberg Family Farms, Mechanics Bank, The Natural Grocery Company, Numi Organic Tea, Traditional MedicinalsStraus Family Creamery, and Trader Joes.