Meet Nicole Sugerman, NESAWG Policy Associate

What do you do?

As NESAWG’s Policy Associate, I offer our network of organizations and stakeholders from all over the 12-state Northeast region avenues for engagement with federal policies that affect regional farming and food systems, with a particular focus on building our work in the Mid-Atlantic. My ultimate goal is to empower our network to influence policy to advance a food system that serves both farmers and eaters, benefits the Northeast region’s needs, and is racially and economically just.  

What is your motivation for doing this work?

I was a small-scale farmer for 12 years. I loved my work, but I also I knew that what I could do as an urban farmer was constrained by parameters set and contested by others--policies, in other words, on a local, state, and federal level. I wanted to be better positioned to influence the rules and programs that affected my work and the work of my friends. I am motivated by my strong relationships with farmer friends and my firsthand knowledge of the (tremendous) work it takes to be a sustainable farmer. I am also motivated by a strong conviction that this work cannot wait- our climate, our communities, and out ecosystems depend on our ability to shape our food system toward justice and sustainability.

How did you end up doing this work?

I grew up really into and concerned about protecting the environment. In college, I learned to connect environmental degradation to other systems of oppression, and I was drawn to food systems work because of its incredible complexity, connection to so many other issues, and the universality of eating and connecting over food. I started working on farms so I would have a better, hands-on understanding of food systems, but then I fell in love with farming itself. As much as I love farming, though, I always knew I wanted to do broader and larger-scale food systems organizing work.

What are three tips you’d recommend to anyone who wanted to do this work?

There is no single path to success in this work- follow your interests, put yourself out there, and realize that career-building experience can come through many different channels.

If you can swing it, working on a farm for at least one entire season is a really great learning experience.

In any field of advocacy, it’s important that advocates follow the leadership of those most affected by the issues they are working to address, and ultimately, to shift power so that those most affected lead the movement altogether. That’s the only way we are going to win! In food systems work, those most affected by food systems’ harms are people of color and poor and working class people. How can you support poor & working class leadership and leadership from people of color in your organization, community, and field?

What books or authors do you recommend to learn about the food system?

Early on, I was influenced by writings by Vandana Shiva, Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, and Masanobu Fukuoka. I’d recommend Natasha Bowens’ The Color of Food for a great starting place to learn from leaders of color in the food movement. I also like blogs and articles when I don’t have the time or attention span for an entire book; NSAC currently has a great series up on the Farm Bill in a racial equity context, and Food First! Is my go-to to stay current on food systems analysis from perspectives based in global food sovereignty.

What has been the hardest lesson or challenge in your work?

Setting priorities and balancing short-term and long-term goals- I always have more I want to do than time to do it.

How do you want to be remembered?

As a thoughtful and caring friend and as an effective organizer for social change.