The New American Farmer: Immigration, Race, and the Struggle for Sustainability

A look at how Latino/a immigrant farmers are transitioning from farmworkers to farm owners.

Although the majority of farms in the United States have US-born owners who identify as white, a growing number of new farmers are immigrants. Many of them are from Mexico and originally came to the United States looking for work in agriculture.

In The New American Farmer, Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern explores the experiences of Latino/a immigrant farmers as they transition from farmworkers to farm owners, offering a new perspective on racial inequity and sustainable farming. She finds that many of these new farmers rely on farming practices from their home countries—including growing multiple crops simultaneously, using integrated pest management, maintaining small-scale production, and employing family labor.

Drawing on extensive interviews with farmers and organizers, Minkoff-Zern describes the social, economic, and political barriers immigrant farmers must overcome, from navigating USDA bureaucracy to exclusion from opportunities based on race. Immigrant farmers, with their knowledge and experience of alternative farming practices, are actively and substantially contributing to the movement for a more sustainable food system—scholars and food activists should take notice.

Click here to download the open-access book. 

Praise for The New American Farmer

“Race, ethnicity, and immigration are pivotal challenges facing the US food system. Disrupting the dominant trope of Latino/a immigrant as farmworker, Minkoff-Zern expertly reveals the emerging reality of immigrant farm owners, who, despite many challenges, bring with them farming practices that are simultaneously ecological, sustainable, and family centered.”

—Julian Agyeman, Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts University; coeditor of Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability

“Minkoff-Zern opens a new field of inquiry into class and racial structuring in American agriculture, detailing Latino/a farmworker transitions to autonomous ecological farming. Her bold challenge to researchers, policy makers, and activists foregrounds race as complicating recognition and inclusion, within a novel ‘agrarian question’ informed by a political economy of migration.”

—Philip McMichael, Cornell University; author of Food Regimes and Agrarian Questions

“A vivid and comprehensive inquiry into mostly overlooked realities, The New American Farmer critically rethinks trajectories toward inclusive futures for rural areas.”

—Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, Emeritus Professor of Rural Sociology, Wageningen University, the Netherlands; Adjunct Professor of the College of Humanities and Development Studies, China Agricultural University, Beijing

About the Author

Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern is an Assistant Professor of Food Studies and an affiliated faculty member in the Departments of Geography at Syracuse University. Dr. Minkoff-Zern’s research and teaching explores the interactions between food and racial justice, labor movements, and transnational environmental and agricultural policy. This focus builds on her extensive experience with agricultural biodiversity projects abroad, combined with work on immigrant health issues domestically.

In The New American Farmer: Immigration, Race, and the Struggle for Sustainability (MIT Press, 2019), she explores the experiences of Latino/a immigrant farmers as they transition from farmworkers to farm owners. She has also published in journals such as Geoforum, The Journal of Peasant Studies, Food, Culture, and Society, Antipode, Agriculture and Human Values, and Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, among others. She earned a PhD in Geography from the University of California, Berkeley.

Additional Resources

The Immigrant-Food Nexus: Borders, Labor, and Identity in North America edited by Julian Agyeman and Sydney Giacalone, MIT Press, 2020 (with a chapter co-written by Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern) – open access PDF download available at MIT Press Direct.

Header image: The New American Farmer