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Staff Spotlight: Nayla Jiménez-Cabezas, Program Associate

Nayla joined the Washington Farmland Trust team in July as a Program Associate to support our Fundraising and Farmer to Farmer programs. Here’s Nayla…

Tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in Costa Rica on seven acres of land that my grandparents restored. I was always surrounded by family and nature as a kid. I received my BA in Education and Business Administration, and went on to pursue a Master’s in Environmental Education with a focus on organizational sustainability from Goshen College in Indiana, which brought me to the United States. As a Brown, gay immigrant, issues of access and equity are extremely important to me both personally and professionally. In my spare time, I enjoy cooking, exploring the outdoors, and playing the guitar for my wife and daughter.

Tell us why you care about local food and farming issues.

There are three points in my life where I can track back where I learned to feel grounded and connected to food and the natural environment. 

As a kid in Costa Rica, I grew up surrounded by nature, eating fresh, local, and in season foods. That’s what our family could afford, and it’s what was available. There was a man who would drive to the farmers market early in the morning, and he would come to the gate of our property to take our order. This connection to my local food system really helped shape the value that I hold around knowing where my food comes from. 

As a teenager, when I moved to Indiana for college, I struggled to make ends meet. During that time, there were some key community members who got me connected to resources and taught me how to be self-sufficient with food. From volunteering at community gardens to canning, pickling, preserving and dumpster diving, they really helped drive home the significance of local food produced by local community members. Shortly after, I became involved with my neighborhood farmers market, planted a garden, and started my lifelong journey of being connected to local food.

Finally, I recently learned how many people in my family were farmers or raised on farms. I also learned about the stigma that was associated with food growing in my family; it was something people wanted to move away from in order to be “successful.” Since learning more about this part of my family history, I’ve been talking with my grandmother about her stories and struggles, and working to reclaim that part of my heritage and shift the narrative away from shame and more toward pride. 

What is your connection to agriculture and/or the natural world?

Growing up, when it was time to celebrate — a wedding, birthday or other life milestone — nature was always the place to go. A beach, a river, my grandpa’s farm, it was always an outdoor setting. My siblings, cousins and I would roam the forest on our property, play games at the creek, ride our bikes, and spend most days playing outside. We always knew how to navigate the wilderness, which plants were poisonous, which trees to climb, which hills to roll down. My mother would have to hose us down at the end of the day before we were allowed to come in and shower.

I think that’s why nature has always felt like a very safe place. Celebration, joy, and freedom will always be intrinsically linked to the outdoors for me. 

What are you most excited about working on at the organization?

As I’ve been learning more about the state of farming and our natural resources, including the oppressive history of land ownership in the United States — I have felt really grateful to know the Trust is paying attention to these complex issues and attempting to be a player to move important conversations forward. It’s exciting to be joining the organization at a time when there is a deep investment in equity and inclusion that is being navigated in a careful way: looking inward, looking at the history, looking forward, and trying to be complete and honest in the approach. There is no claim to have all of the answers, but rather a posture of “here’s what we feel that we can offer, what do other people think, let’s get work.” That is a setting that is very motivating for me, and an exciting space to be invited into, especially as someone who identifies as a minority. 

What is your hope for the future of farming in Washington?

Strangely enough, the source of what can make me feel hopeless is what also makes me feel hopeful about this work, and that is the amount of people who should be included but aren’t currently. By changing the way we run our programs and the way we meet the needs of communities on the ground, my hope is that we can one day look around and see that the faces of the farmers across Washington will finally reflect the diversity of this community. Because I know they’re out there, they just need to be included, and we need to have the capacity and creativity to be able to meet their needs. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

As a new import to Washington State, me and my family have felt such connection and meaning here, even in such a short amount of time. I am really excited to continue to get to know people, and to set roots in this new place I call home. I know deepening my personal relationships will only strengthen the work that I get to do in this community.