Cathy Satava on Farmer Voices
Interviewee: Cathy Satava
Background: Realtor representing BIPOC farms
In honor of Black History Month, we are taking a slightly different approach to Farmer Voices in February. Rather than hearing from a farmer, this month’s interview is with Cathy Satava, a realtor who represents Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color. We partnered with Cathy on the acquisition of 43 acres of land in Centralia with the Black Food Sovereignty Coalition, and deeply value her partnership. Here’s Cathy.
My name is Catherine Satava, people call me Cathy. I’m one of those people that one industry isn’t enough, one career wouldn’t do it for me. So I’m quite a generalist and eclectic. I have 15 years in social work, working with lots of different populations of people: youth, elderly, and my last foray in social work was running transitional shelters for homeless women.
From there, I went into real estate and I have sold residential resale for 11 and a half years now. I think it’s very important that representation matters at all levels of any transaction. You’re just not going to see a lot of people of color that are realtors, there just aren’t very many.
I quickly found out I didn’t like living on a commission; it was super stressful to me. I also saw how I played a role in gentrification of my own communities and how I myself, as a self-employed person, could not purchase my own home, and it was really challenging my values and principles. It really was a struggle for me, because in my heart, I was a social worker, working with folks who were previously homeless. So, that was just a difficult ride for me.
At the same time, I also saw that I could do good in my community as well. I didn’t have to tear it apart. I could do good. So in 2020, I started graduate school. I went to a school that is specifically a sustainability and systems thinking graduate school, Presidio Graduate School in California, where I got a dual MBA and MPA.
Food pathways has also always been really interesting to me. My background is in anthropology and women’s studies, so that’s just been an arena that I’ve always been really interested in, how community and culture gets passed down, gets perpetuated, established…and food is one of those major pathways.
In all of this, I have a very close friendship with somebody at the Black Food Sovereignty Coalition. This person has been in my life for a long time; I consider them family. I can look back at emails all the way to 2012, where we’re saying: “We’ve got to get you a farm. We’ve got to figure this out.”
And being really interested in the community work that they were doing and having a background in social work, doing a lot of that kind of community engagement, on-the-ground work, made this a really great fit. And seeds of that kind of persisted throughout all of these years. So in 2021, we started looking at a farm that kind of fell through. There was a farmer that was going to sell a farm in Oregon, and I was helping facilitate that, working with another realtor down in Oregon, but what showed up were issues of racism.
Most of the landowners were white folks, and while they were interested or intrigued by this BIPOC organization, they were totally unwilling to try on the discomfort of applying equity. Like, does that mean we have to wait a little bit? Does that mean we may not get as much money? Does that mean it may not feel like a sure thing? All of these issues, which generally speaking, no selling client wants to deal with those things, but because of the arena of land acquisition and supporting BIPOC farmers and realizing that they’re being supported at a very high level, whether that be state funds, county funds…there’s an energy that’s arising around it…but as the individual farm seller, who is ready to retire, who is interested in equity, potentially, but has no concept of how to apply it and when the rubber meets the road is unwilling to do what’s necessary to support this organization and purchasing their land and transferring that property.
And so I saw a role for myself, in bridging this, chasm, this cultural chasm. So we started doing that work in earnest. I started looking for a farm and in early August, I sent a text saying, “Hey, I found your farm. I found it. Let’s go. Let’s go look at it.” And I was so sure and so excited that this was it. And I remember taking my friend to go see this farm. And he’s like, “Oh, my God, this is our farm.” And I was like, “Yep, it is. Now we’ve got to figure out how to make it happen.”
So what I’m interested in talking about is funding stacks and how to secure a property when you haven’t gotten funded yet, which right now, one of the clients that I’m working with has that situation. They’ve been told they’re going to get funding, but it hasn’t materialized, and that whole process where these organizations that say, “yeah, we’re going to fund you,” but then don’t provide the peace of mind and the process by which they’ll be funded, even though they’ve been awarded. That can be really complicated.
So by 2022, we closed this sale. It took almost a full year to close this sale, and it was only because the universe had something happen that the sellers had to deal with that kept it online for us because it took so long to get it funded.
I’ve got the projects that are near and dear to my heart with the different BIPOC organizations that I’m working with in terms of land acquisition, and I think for myself, I really see a future in transitioning my work focus to land acquisition, to working with land trusts, to working in the affordable housing arena, because it’s really satisfying and it’s heart work.
You know, I think I’m an activist with a real estate license. And I think because of my background, I have a lot to offer first time, purchasers, right? Like, I just think generally in the community, people don’t know the process because it’s been a process that many BIPOC people have been kept out of systemically, on purpose. So there’s a lot of education that I do, which I think is essential to having people feel comfortable with the process.
I think it’s really important that [landowners] embrace what they’re getting involved with, that there’s a mutual relationship and that they feel really great about who they’re leaving their legacy to, because I don’t want to undermine or undervalue the work of that steward of the land.
We were looking at a blueberry farm a couple weeks ago and the sellers of that farm have created this immaculate, beautiful piece of land that they’ve cultivated and cared for and raised their children there and like, it’s a whole world that has to be respected.
And so I think it’s as important for the seller to embrace the new life that’s going to be infused into that land and to be a part of the story of equity in Washington state or wherever else it happens, right? To be a part of that new legacy, something that maybe they never thought that they would be a part of, something that they probably never thought about at all.
Because still, so many BIPOC farming organizations have experience either in their home countries or they have experience on small pots of land, and when they’re starting to build up and expand and start to operate larger pieces of land, there is mentorship that’s needed.
So I think a lot of it for me is about trust building, relationship building, and setting that foundation. [Land ownership] is also such a source of hardship for so many communities because it’s an issue of access. So I think it’s one of those spaces that I feel really privileged to assist in in any way I can.