It was a true pleasure to speak with Annelie Livingston-Anderson.
Out of nervousness and fear, I clung to my notebook and pen, but by the end of our conversation, I felt at ease and as though I had been meeting up with an old friend. Speaking with Annelie was highly instructive regarding farming, its significance, and the necessity for farmers.
After graduating with a master’s degree in Integrated Biosciences (focusing on insect ecology and evolution) from University of Minnesota-Duluth, Annelie worked in nonprofit sustainable agriculture programming for a few years in the Twin Cities before hopping on the Land Stewardship Project team in 2018 as a Farm Beginnings organizer. She heads up the Farm Beginnings class and Farm Dreams workshops and helps with their Journeyperson program and Farm Viability Steering Committee, as well as coordinates educational field days.
Annelie sat comfortably in her home the day of our Zoom meeting. The wall behind her was covered with a series of lovely, abstract bookcases full of different types of books.
Heaven Barnaby (HB): First and foremost, I just want to thank you for taking up my offer for an interview, I’m very grateful.
Annelie Livingston-Anderson (ALA): No, of course, thank you for reaching out, I always love to be able to educate on my field of work.
HB: What moment in your life signified your decision on choosing to do this job?
ALA: When I was in graduate school, I made the decision that sustainable agriculture was the field in which I wanted to work since it encompassed my passion for farming, the outdoors, and environmental protection while also valuing people. I wasn’t sure at the moment if I wanted to stay on the route of scientific research or change it to sustainable agriculture research, or if I wanted to educate people about sustainable agriculture or start my own farm.
I’m currently combining the final two. I’ve been farming vegetables and cut flowers in Western Wisconsin for seven years, and I’ve been a Farm Beginnings Organizer with the Land Stewardship Project for four years, assisting individuals in starting their own farms.
HB: Since you started doing this job, have you seen any impacts on the climate change movement from your work?
ALA: Generally speaking, I’ve noticed significant shifts in the way that sustainable agriculture may contribute to the fight against climate change. The documentary Kiss the Ground which was released last year, is just one illustration of how much more study is being done about carbon sequestration in no-till and rotational grazing systems. Beginning farmers frequently lack access to large land parcels, so their management of the land is not as heavily emphasized as farms with greater impact. Nevertheless, when everything is considered, it is still crucial.
Additionally, we have recently been collaborating with farmers to assist them in developing climate resilience plans for their farms based on scientific data of the greatest challenges that climate change will pose to their farms in the Midwest. While it may not necessarily be reducing climate change, it is assisting farmers in responding to its realities.
HB: Even the smallest of things can contribute to helping combat climate change, so that’s absolutely amazing. What do you think your industry of work is going to look like in 10 years?
ALA: The biggest obstacle now standing in the way of beginning farmers starting their own farms is access to land. In order to start getting more farmers on the land adopting sustainable practices, I expect that there will be significant change in the area of land access over the next ten years. For the most part, farmers also require access to financing to start their businesses, and there has been a history of discrimination in lending that has to be rectified.
The Farm Beginning program is focused on ensuring that beginning farmers are well-prepared to launch their own farms as the third piece of the puzzle. Goal-setting, money management, marketing, and small business launch resources are the main topics of the Farm Beginnings course. Since the program has been in operation for 24 years, we have continuously improved the curriculum to make it more beneficial and hospitable to a wide range of beginning farmers.
HB: It’s great that you’re educating people on farming because it’s an incredible skill to have. I had heard that there weren’t very many farmers left, which is unfortunate because they’re the ones that grow our fruits and veggies. We also consume a lot of processed or altered food, so without farmers, we wouldn’t have access to the nutritious organic foods they produce.
So how does your role directly impact climate justice? Or connect to other social justice issues?
ALA: We are a piece of the puzzle that will help new farmers succeed. Climate change will be somewhat impacted by our efforts to encourage farmers to practice sustainable agriculture and lead with their values. Although I am not personally involved in that work, the Land Stewardship Project also works closely with farmers to support the passage of laws in state and federal legislatures that will seek to reduce climate change.
HB: Do you see yourself still working in this field within the next 10 years?
ALA: I greatly believe in the work that the Land Stewardship Project is doing and would like to continue contributing to that work in some manner for a very long time. I hope to still be operating my own small, sustainable farm in ten years.
HB: And our last question is; if you could go back in time, what would you tell your past self when it comes to this job field?
ALA: We need to transform our agricultural system immediately to make it more sustainable and just, but doing so will take time, so it will be difficult to hold these two facts together at once.
HB: Thank you so much for taking up my offer for this interview.
By the time our conversation was over, I had gained a much greater understanding of the value of farming and the reasons why there should be more farmers. Many farmers are aging, but without them, we wouldn’t have any more nutritious fruits and vegetables if no one is left to step in and carry on cultivating and correctly producing our food. It’s terrible enough that businesses add pesticides and other things to our food to help it grow bigger. If that’s the only option we end up having, it’ll be absolutely mortifying for many.
Heaven Barnaby is an intern at Climate Generation, interviewing green careers professionals and writing articles. She is a sophomore in college from New York. Fun fact: she truly adores reading books, especially romantic ones, because she’s a hopeless romantic!