Humon Heidarian: Advocating for an Equitable Food System

Humon Heidarian is one of RAFI-USA’s newest staff members, coming on board this year to fill a new position as Climate and Equity Policy Manager. In addition to serving on RAFI-USA’s Policy Team, he works on two significant projects: the BIPOC Climate and Equity Policy project which will fund BIPOC organizations to do agricultural policy work, and another project conducting outreach to farmers to gauge their interest in working with RAFI-USA on the 2023 Farm Bill. After identifying and meeting with these farmers, the team will work with them to build deep connections and help them engage in the Farm Bill policy-making process.

Humon grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland, just north of Washington, DC, which he notes is Nacotchtank (Anacostan) and Piscataway land. As a child, he thought he wanted to become a zoologist. “I am not sure how I even learned that word — possibly at the Natural History Museum in DC,” he says. In middle school, he landed on becoming an environmental scientist and ended up getting a BS in Environmental Science from the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). He became interested in growing food when he joined UMBC’s Garden Club. “So, I always knew I wanted to work outdoors and do some type of conservation work. I think regenerative farming is a form of environmental conservation,” he notes.

Humon has had a remarkable number of positions in his career so far, all of them focused in one way or another on agriculture and the environment. “I think all my experiences have been formative in their own way because they all shaped my perspective on the food system and what my role could be. I am very fortunate to have been able to stay on the same (relatively short because I am young) career path, with some needed detours,” he shares.

While working as a Chesapeake Conservation Corps. Member at ECO City Farms, Humon also volunteered for Prince George’s Food Equity Council (PGFEC), working on the farm during the day and going to PGFEC meetings at night. ”Being in these two roles at the same time helped me understand how the people working hard on farms and running small businesses can advocate for themselves and change policy. And how the decisions of legislators and corporate interests can affect the lives of farmers, farm workers, and communities,” he says.

Several formative experiences allowed Humon to see how advocacy can change policy. He participated in changing zoning policy to permit people to keep chickens on urban farms, a project that took years of constant advocacy to accomplish. He shares, “That was the first time that I saw advocacy and organizing succeed in making a change that benefited people.”

Graduate school took him to Vermont where he received an MPA from the University of Vermont. When he was the legislative assistant for the Vermont Farm Bureau, he saw “how the ‘sausage’ is made at the state level. I observed how different elected officials, government departments, and special interest groups interact with each other to pass legislation. But what I found the most interesting was that when it was time for lunch, political tensions seemed to be put on hold and everyone crowded into the same small cafeteria to eat. Everyone was respectful to each other,” he says. But quickly he adds,” Maybe it is the Vermont culture where everyone knows everyone.”

Humon was one of three interns working at Senator Bernie Sander’s constituent services office in Burlington while he was running for president. He characterizes that experience as “intense and amazing. There was a neverending supply of letters and phone calls. Remember when the Senator had a heart attack during the campaign? That was a tough day. There were a few bomb threats too,” he recalls.

“It was rewarding because I know I played a small part in getting someone their delayed social security benefits or relaying constituent concerns to the Senator and his staff. Every person in the office worked really hard and was supportive of the interns,” he added. He also felt fortunate because he was able to shadow the Senator’s State Agriculture Advisor which gave him the opportunity to listen to different organizations talk about what they were doing on the ground.

Eventually, Humon found his way to RAFI-USA. “I kept hearing about all the good work RAFI- USA was doing in different meetings and conversations with people so I did my own research. I found that RAFI-USA does do a lot of good work and has a strong network. Later, when I was searching for jobs, I found this opening and I applied,” he shares. As for what he enjoys most about the organization, “the people,” he plainly states. 

Humon is resolute about his commitment to helping create an equitable food system and return power and food sovereignty to farmers, farm workers, and consumers. “We need to hold corporations accountable,” he emphasizes.

Humon says he spends a lot of time learning more about the food system by reading books and news articles and watching Youtube. He’s currently learning Mandarin (“challenging,” he says) and enjoys spending time with friends and family. He goes to the gym often and does yoga several times a week. “I also enjoy cooking food at home and trying restaurants I have never been to. Occasionally, I will go to a comedy show or concert,” he says. 

He also enjoys growing things. “Homegrown food tastes better and lasts longer,” he explains. “It is definitely an investment in time and money but the payoff is worth it. I saved my family a lot of money that would’ve been spent at the grocery store. I enjoy sharing the produce I grow with my neighbors as well.” He also finds the work sometimes therapeutic. “I can take my stress out by pulling weeds and throwing compost around.” But on the flip side, he reveals that he gets stressed out again when he finds aphids or when a surprise frost kills all the seedlings he just planted. “It’s definitely a balance like the rest of life,” he says.

“I feel very fortunate to have a job and lifestyle that I enjoy. Maybe I will own a farm or start a non-profit someday.”

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