Giving California’s Small-Scale Farmers a Voice - American Farmland Trust

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Giving California’s Small-Scale Farmers a Voice, Meet Anel Trujillo, AFT‘s California Outreach Specialist

Small-scale farming runs in Anel Trujillo’s blood. In fact, her family has farmed since the 1940s in Mexico and California.

This farming heritage informs Anel’s work as AFT’s California outreach specialist. And her farm service program experience, bilingual language skills in Spanish and English, education, and ongoing commitment equip her to help underrepresented farming communities throughout the state.

Standing in a small scale farm in Fresno California
Anel stands in a California small scale farm field with cabbage plants in Fresno.

When Anel was growing up in Oaxaca, Mexico, her grandfather and father were small-scale farmers working on their own cornfields.

“My grandfather owned cornfields in Mexico, and my dad helped him in the fields, from planting to growing to harvesting,” remembers Anel. “It is common in Oaxaca, Mexico, to own cornfields, because it is our main food crop.”

More about Oaxaca’s native corn from
oaxacan heritage corn in different colors and shapes
Oaxacan heritage corn photo by Carmen Carrasco.

To this day, Anel still remembers spring meals when her family planted and grew corn and peanuts.

“After a hard day of work, we ate lunch in the cornfields,” she says. “Our lunch was quite simple: homemade tortillas and salsa made with a molcajete, and queso fresco (cheese).

Even after the demanding work of harvesting, my grandma and my mom went straight to the kitchen to prepare the food. Of course, it was corn; my mom and grandma made delicious corn tamales, corn tortillas, we even got to have a dessert: sweet tamales. I can’t tell you how good it tasted.”

Sadly, Anel’s father and her brother Dante had to leave their home to immigrate to the United States.

“After working long hours in the cornfields with no prospects of growth,” says Anel, “they knew they had to find a better life for my family. They had the opportunity to come to the United States during the Bracero program to work in the fields and send money back to my family. During this time, my father and brother harvested crops such as grapes, peaches, oranges, and nectarines.”

A man drives equipment at a small scale farm in California.
Anel’s father and brother worked on California farms, while sending home money to the family.

After Anel graduated from high school in Mexico, she arrived in the United States at 21 years old. Dante encouraged her to come and further her education, even if she couldn’t yet speak English. Despite the difficulties, Anel persevered and graduated from the California State University, Fresno with a double major in business administration and Chicano studies.

“I wanted an education to help my community,” she explains. “I really wanted to work in agriculture, because I knew first-hand how hard it is for California’s small-scale farmers to achieve their dreams of owning farmland.”

Working with Farmers of Color

Upon graduating from university, Anel worked closely with farmers of color in California’s San Joaquin Valley, the nation’s leading food-producing region. Anel applied her skills at Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño in programs focused on strengthening social safety nets for indigenous women.

Anel later worked as a program technician for the USDA Farm Service Agency, assisting California small-scale farmers directly with emergency relief programs and helping them apply for grants. This gave her a front-row seat to these farmers’ daily challenges.

“Farmers love farming, but they also know the risks,” says Anel. “These include a lack of resources, climate change, and the need for stronger government policies to protect farmland. To compete, California’s small-scale farmers need money, land, reliable equipment, seeds, marketing skills, and business knowledge. Sometimes language is a huge barrier for them, too.”

After helping many farmers apply for disaster funds, Anel believes California’s small-scale farms need more assistance, resources, and guidance to compete in a challenging marketplace with erratic weather conditions.

“These farmers need a safe network to be successful,” she says. “They need help accessing land, grants and loans, technology, and education, as well as an adequate infrastructure. I’ve been truly fortunate to work with many of these farmers. I can confidently say they are hard workers. They know that farming has many challenges, but they do it because they love to bring food to the table.”

Sense of Satisfaction

Working with these farmers is one of Anel’s favorite parts about her job as AFT’s California outreach specialist. “I really enjoy interacting with these farmers. It’s a pleasure to connect them with the right technical assistance and funding support they need to be successful. During AFT California’s recent tailgates, presentations, and Learning Circles with our partners, it was very satisfying to have this direct contact with farmers and help them personally. I thank AFT for this opportunity.”

Anel stands in the small scale farm fields at ALBA near Salinas, California.Now that she is helping farmers like her own family, Anel has plenty of hope about California’s small-scale farmers, despite the risks.

“These farmers don’t just work hard with their hands,” says Anel. “They put their heart and soul into their work. They want to protect their soil’s fertility, so the land has long-term productivity. They want healthy soil to produce better crops and conserve California’s natural resources.

I believe that if these farmers have a good network, they will find the right resources for their needs. Talking with these farmers is what gives me hope.”

Learn more about the California Farms for a New Generation program, which supports historically underserved and small-scale farmers across the state.
About the Author
Teresa O'Connor

California Communications and Outreach Manager

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