Building a farm with intention

By Elsa Cavazos, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, March 3, 2022

Leslie Wiser walks through Radical Family Farms. Photo Elsa Cavazos

Radical Family Farms was created out of a desire to connect to Asian American heritage

In an effort to connect with her roots and encourage others to do so, Leslie Wiser founded Radical Family Farms. Wiser wanted to create a farm that centered LGBTQIA+ people and mixed Asian American heritage. Starting in 2018 and having its first farming year in 2019, the farm is literally blooming with not only vegetables but flowers and intention.

“I wanted to use this farm as a way to reconnect with the Asian side of our ethnicities. So, that’s what we’re doing — we’re growing a lot of Korean crops, a lot of Chinese and Taiwanese crops, and then also Japanese, and some Southeast Asian crops as well,” Wiser said.

Wiser began farming in her early 40s and had experience in farming but never really thought it was a possibility.

“I just never thought it was something that I could do. I never saw any other farmers of color,” they said.

Besides wanting to embrace her culture, Wiser always felt drawn to the outdoors and had always wanted to farm. Their family decided on Sebastopol for the venture.

“Finally, when I had my kids, I wanted to go back, or I wanted to raise them to where they knew where their food came from,” Wiser said, since their children are of mixed Asian descent.

Wiser is of Chinese and Taiwanese descent. Her children are also of Korean descent.

“With the process of immigration and all the assimilation that happens, as the children of immigrants, I lost so much, and they are going to lose more,” Wiser said.

At the same time, she is highlighting her German Polish Jewish grandmother, who came to the U.S after World War II. Wiser said her grandmother had a huge influence on her and constantly lamented about the foods of her homeland and how she could not find them.

“When she was still alive, I asked her for some vegetables that she wanted that were near and dear to her that were hard for her to find,” Wiser said. “She gave me a list and so I’ve grown things like green sorrel, which is something that she wanted, a really popular Polish sorrel soup, and then Kohlrabi cabbages she loved, currants and gooseberries.”

The name Radical Family Farms is a way to pay homage to her ancestors, like her grandmother, and a way to pay respect.

“Also for my mother — at that time, I think when (my mother) met my father, they faced a lot of discrimination and I just kind of want to honor that,” Wiser said.

Her family is also one she wanted to honor with the name. Wiser’s family is a queer mixed family and it was important for Wiser to embrace that part of her too.

“Just me being a queer family and then also a mixed family with Sarah as the kids’ step parent. I think we’re continuing along that path of alternative love, like following our heart and doing what is right for us, regardless of what the larger majority thinks,” Wiser said.

Alongside Wiser is her partner Sarah Deragon who is a photographer and flower farmer. The two make up a powerful duo who lead their farm with love and purpose.

In addition to embracing community-supported agriculture, both are social justice advocates. Their farm houses signs created for a protest to stop Asian hate. Attacks on Asians increased last year and continue to happen throughout the country. In June of 2020, they also protested in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s still continuing. (There are) so many hate crimes against Asian Americans that are connected to the pandemic. I wanted to bring light to that. Because we are centering Asian Americans within the farm. I’m really trying to honor that part of myself, for myself and for my mother and for my children,” Wiser said.

“It’s a problem. And at that time, it wasn’t really getting a lot of publicity. Violence against our elders is such a taboo in the Asian culture, because we respect and honor our elders and our seniors. Seeing all of the seniors getting attacked just made me want to do something for them. So last year … we were able to feed through a grant through Sonoma County,” they said.

Preparing for the season

For Wiser, one of the most important factors is to be able to reach communities in need and be able to provide nutritious food they will relate to. The farm is constantly seeking donations for their community initiatives to keep them running.

People interested in trying Wiser and Deragon’s vegetables and flowers, can join their biweekly or monthly community-supported agriculture (CSA) model.

The vegetable CSA starts in May and the flower CSA in June. At the moment, Wiser and Deragon are focused on seeding — planting seeds and waiting for them to germinate.

“We have shallots, yellow onions, over here. I planted snapdragons because it takes 120 days for them to bloom and there’s nothing fast in farming. You always have to be planning, three to six months down the road, what you want to do,” Deragon said.

The farm also has hoop houses where they grow hot weather crops. They let them grow through the winter and then mow it down and plant into it.

“It helps the soil rebuild organic matter because farming is very intense on the soil,” Deragon said.

The farm has three community initiatives created in order for people to donate and support the causes. One of them is the feeding seniors program in Oakland and San Francisco where CSA farm boxes are delivered directly through them within the program. The second is a climate-smart regenerative farming initiative that raises efforts to reduce harm to the planet. The third initiative mentors and trains beginner farmers, focusing on AAPI, BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people.

“I wanted to be able to offer nutrient dense, super fresh, and delicious vegetables and herbs to the seniors, who maybe didn’t want to go walk out on the streets to go grocery shopping, and make it very convenient for them to be fed and nourished in a time of hate,” Wiser said.

“Instead of getting sacks of potatoes, they can get bitter melon, and Chinese eggplants, and Chinese cucumbers, things that are culturally relevant to them but that they maybe can’t necessarily afford,” she said.

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