In recent years, the leadership of National Farm Worker Ministry (NFWM) saw fit to respond to the need of many 40+ year old nonprofit ministries in the U.S. and begin thinking about the future of the movement. How would we transmit our rich history to the next generation? Valuable time and energy was soon put into the formulation of a youth and young adult program based out of Orlando, Florida. This program was created to ensure another 91 years of solidarity alongside farm workers but also to ensure that a group of passionate young people were being nurtured alongside farm worker legends.
I think it is fair to say that the Youth and Young Adult Network of the National Farm Worker Ministry (YAYA) has far surpassed our expectations. Not only are our YAYAs passionate, enthusiastic young people who eagerly take on injustice that farm workers experience in their communities but many of these young people are taking the leadership training from YAYA out into the world to speak on national platforms about the need for a more just food system in this country and a more transparent agricultural industry.
Amy Westphal first ran into National Farm Worker Ministry back in 2013. Now she organizes her peers around farm worker issues at Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago with NFWM and YAYA resources. She attended our recent board meeting in North Carolina and had this to say of her experience:
“Seeking one’s vocation often takes time for discernment and wrestling with God’s call in the midst of a confused time. But to discern your call and be met by others who are truly called to serve in a similar fashion is a blessing indeed. During my trip to the 2013 Ecumenical Advocacy Days in D.C., presenting a food justice theme, I met a group of ministers hosting an advocacy table on farm worker ministry. At that moment in time my past world of growing up in a family of farm managers and cotton ginners and my studies in nutrition met. Curiously I asked, “this ministry exists?” A year and half down the road I sit joined by others passionate for farm worker ministry at the National Farm Worker Ministry 2014 board meeting in North Carolina. The echo of how NFWM educates, equips and mobilizes resounded around the table as board members shared their experiences and hopes for the future. My pen briskly painted my paper with ideas unleashed by hearing the vast history of NFWM.
Vocation demands nurturing and so does training our ministers in practice. I attended this meeting with hopes of finding a wealth of resources in order to envision the future of farm worker ministry education at my school. This experience did not fail. Immediately the resources flowed from the stories that Olga Sierra Sandman and Sam Trickey shared about their time in the field with farm worker organizers. The campaign packets provided by Lindsay Comstock briefly tapped into the plethora of history that NWFM brings to the table. All of these oral histories provide the material to support a program that trains future ministers in the area of farm worker ministry.
I left the NFWM board meeting feeling fed and compelled to continue following my call into a vocation that celebrates the lives and struggles of farm workers. As a seminarian seeking rostered leadership in the ELCA Lutheran diaconal ministry track, I see farm worker ministry as a ministry where church meets the world.”
Now, maybe more than ever before young people are wondering where their food comes and consciously thinking about the full trajectory of the supply chain as they walk the aisles of their local supermarket. Youth and young adults, across the country, are leading the conversation about what terms like “fair food” and “food justice” really mean in today’s society.
I am excited to see young seminarians and ministers-in-training engaging with farm workers and connecting with National Farm Worker Ministry’s Youth and Young Adult Network. Seminaries and divinity schools are reaching out for more information about faith-based community organizing and farm worker justice. Years ago we never could have envisioned how vital YAYA would be to the farm worker movement. Now we can’t imagine the movement without them.