Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Esperanza Pallana of Food and Farm Communications Fund Is Helping To Change Our World
Trust yourself. My perception of injustices and awareness of systemic inequities has been minimized in certain social situations. As a young person entering professional spaces in the sciences and policy- it would have provided greater clarity to know my recognizing these issues would be called into question as a tactic of denial.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Esperanza Pallana.
Esperanza is a culture change leader that has worked with nonprofits for over 20 years with an emphasis in leadership, systemic change, and policy advocacy. She has led several successful campaigns that resulted in institutional change and innovative policy as well as capital and grantmaking programs advancing economic and racial equity. For the past ten years, she has worked to support social justice entrepreneurs and movement leaders in removing policy barriers, consolidating resources, and accessing grant and lending capital for transformative food system change. In 2022, she joined the Food & Farm Communications Fund as Executive Director.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have family members whose lives were negatively impacted working as farm labor in the Central Valley and working for fast food companies. As food system workers, they experienced brutal inequities. I listened to their stories and was acutely aware of the absence of representation of these stories in the media. Actually, my first college paper was a race and gender analysis of media during children’s programming. In it I emphasized that the cultural programming that targets children leaves them more familiar with fast food companies than the vast diversity of, and need for equality within, their own communities. So, to be honest, what brought me to this career path has been a lifelong focus on addressing exploitative multi billion dollar food and farm industries that use predatory marketing and media to misinform our communities.
I now look forward to utilizing my knowledge in communications, policy advocacy campaigns, community development finance and philanthropy to inform our work at the Food and Farm Communications Fund (FFCF). At FFCF, we understand the power the media has to shape beliefs, inspire empathy and collective action. Our communications not only serve to advance our mission but to replace everyday narratives that marginalize those affected by food system inequities with narratives of those who have firsthand knowledge of systemic and institutional barriers. At FFCF, we believe it is critical to shed light on community centered strategies and solutions so that an equitable food system can be made real.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I think the most interesting story so far has been that of the communities changing policies and practices with creative programs and actions. Whether it is warehouse workers fighting for justice in rural mid-western regions, small farmers organizing for climate protection policies, or legacy urban community centers housing, feeding, and educating youth- they are all actively working to transform food and farm systems. I have had the opportunity to tour sites and speak with some of these brilliant leaders.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
A funny first mistake was when I was following up with a contact. A mutual friend pinged the contact to respond to me AFTER the contact had already responded. It was a confusing and awkward moment for both me and the contact. However, it gave me the opportunity to pick up the phone and call them directly. Not only did we move right through any clumsiness, we were able to have a connective conversation that led to exciting and creative collaboration. I think that really drove home that when things don’t go as planned it’s important to be flexible and allow the new situation to be an unexplored path of opportunity.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
The food and ag industry spends billions annually to influence the public’s understanding of food and farming, and by extension, they control policies and markets. Our communities cannot match them dollar for dollar, but we can organize, we can build collective voices and we can inspire action. Communication strategies play a critical role in real change. This is what FFCF supports for grassroots organizations. We also work to spotlight influential media makers and platforms that are taking on big issues, challenging attitudes, and beliefs, fostering collective empathy and understanding, and activating audiences to take part in transformational food and farm systems change.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
When we were first founded, we focused some of our grant making on communications strategies for small farmers in Iowa, journalistic research and digital platform organizers who were working to institute sustainable agricultural incentives and practices through federal policy. Policy change is a long game and requires planning years in advance and continued effort to educate decision makers and the public. With our funding in 2013, groups were able to publish research, on the ground community stories, train practitioner advocates to speak to the media and access significant media platforms. By 2018, with their collective advocacy the United States passed federal legislation that provides mandatory funding to support the development of regional food economies and market data initiatives focused on organic production; reauthorize ATTRA and SARE; substantially increased funding for agriculture research and provide $50 million in permanent baseline funding for OREI organic research and for the new Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP); added soil health as a research priority; and more effectively supply beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and food producers with the resources they need to start and operate successful food and farming businesses.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Redistribute wealth. Democratize power. Shift economic control to communities rather than global mega corporations.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership means inspiring others to work together toward a common vision or outcome while being accountable for that vision and outcome. Good leadership motivates and enables people to try their best. In the context of social change work, I think leadership also means the courage to take informed action where others may feel afraid or more vulnerable to political push back. A great example of leadership is Congresswoman Barbara Lee, from being the only member of congress to vote against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in 2001 to her call for a racial healing commission in 2021.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Trust yourself. My perception of injustices and awareness of systemic inequities has been minimized in certain social situations. As a young person entering professional spaces in the sciences and policy- it would have provided greater clarity to know my recognizing these issues would be called into question as a tactic of denial.
- Know your differences are your gifts. I was brought up in a less common social circumstance. This made for differences in how I perceive society and my place within it. There were not easily cut out roles for me. My creative pursuit to build my own path is my strength.
- Understand racial gaslighting is a political, social, economic, and cultural process that perpetuates and normalizes white supremacy culture through pathologizing those who resist. After decades of being exposed to blatantly racist comments and microaggressions in office culture and within institutions, it would have saved me years of stress to have a full understanding of racial gaslighting at the onset of my career.
- Recognize self-love and care is a political act. There are many ways in which marginalized communities have been and continue to be exploited and abused. Every time we ensure our preservation and help each other to thrive physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, we are implementing the very tactics that will dismantle oppressive institutions, structure, and systems.
- Embrace that there is far more that unites us than separates us. That is our power. Race and class are social constructs weaponized to separate and oppress people that would otherwise overpower a ruling minority.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am actually not “a person of enormous influence” nor do I need to believe that to still believe we all have the enormous power to influence. If I inspire movement activation, I hope it is to address historical and current systemic oppression of marginalized communities as a critical first step to ensure fair access to opportunities, resources, and rights.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains” Assata Shakur
Capitalism is a system set up to motivate the individual for self-gain. It perpetuates the belief that once you have “achieved” your economic height, you are economically “free” and owe nothing back. This releases people from a sense of continued community connection and responsibility to steward the very resources they used for their own economic growth. As long as there are others actively oppressed through our institutional practices and systems, no one will truly be free. This is a driving force in my career.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Michelle Obama. She has been a strong advocate for food and farm system change and likely has a very clear sense of true pressure points. I’d love to have a conversation with her about it.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Esperanza Pallana of Food and Farm Communications Fund Is Helping… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.