Sabine Frid-Bernards: Activist Working for Change

Sabine Frid-Bernards works with the Farmers of Color Network as the program’s grants coordinator. In that capacity, she moves the grant-giving process forward starting with receiving and logging proposals, to organizing the farmer-based review committee, to sending out checks, and just about everything in between. She also works within the Resources for Resilient Farms project, offering technical assistance and outreach related to a number of FSA programs. 

Sabine has been a community activist for as long as she can remember. “My American side of the family (her mother is Swedish) is much more conservative, so my early rebellion was definitely being a young, liberal, atheist, feminist at a Catholic high school,” she shares with a grin. Sabine grew up in the woods outside of Portland, Oregon. Her mother is from Sweden, and she says this “definitely influenced my politics and understanding of the world. My Swedish side of the family is all women, so feminism and gender equality was something I think was instilled early in me.” She adds, “My mom also helped me question a lot of things that seemed given in the U.S. — not having universal healthcare, equal access to education, reproductive rights, systemic racism and discrimination, gender equality, housing. I had a lot of teachers in high school and college who I learned more about all these things from, but it was really moving to New York City and getting involved in tenant organizing and community work that politicized me and shaped so much of my world view today.”   

In New York, she learned from long-time organizers in the tenant rights movement. “Working alongside grassroots organizers and groups has been a driving force behind a lot of my work — how can I show up and support work that is already happening, led by people most impacted? This is true in my grantmaking work and in my organizing work outside of my jobs, where I was part of a childcare collective for years that provided childcare to grassroots groups so that parents, caregivers, and families could be a part of meetings,” she shares.  

While she enjoys her desk work, she thrives on seeing people she’s working with in real life. “I love getting off the computer to go visit a grantee group or farmer to see what work they are doing. It makes all the behind-the-scenes work tangible and worth it when I can see what amazing work people and groups are doing. I appreciate the close work with farmers — we ask them to sit on the grant review board, give workshops, and we give grants directly to farmers. So much nonprofit or philanthropy work can be deeply disconnected from the people who are at the root of it. Making these personal connections — especially last year after over a year of being fully remote and locked down — is one of my favorite parts of this work.”

In her community work outside of her job, she loves creating kids’ programming that mirrors what adults are doing. “Playing in the dirt at the Black Urban Growers conference … making a mural about care work during domestic worker organizing meetings … working with young kids who are curious and open and already thinking deeply about the world is something that kept me going through hard work — knowing that intergenerational organizing is happening, that there is a new group of people learning and growing and getting ready to take on this work,” she says. 

Sabine has had an interest in oral history for years. She attended Oral History Summer School in 2014 and later helped run the organization, which was one of her favorite jobs. “I did an oral history project with long-time community organizers around New York City through a former job. I have also done some family oral history interviews; one of my favorites is probably the interview I did with my grandmother in Sweden a few years before she died — I learned so much about her and my family that I never knew. I’m incredibly grateful to have this recording now that she’s passed away.”

When she saw the RAFI-USA job opening, she was immediately interested, “I missed doing grant-making work, and I was new to the South at the time I applied. I was excited about the prospect of doing work I was familiar with in the context of a new place and with new types of grantees. This work has been a great way to learn more about my new home and feel connected to work happening around the South,” she shares. 

For fun, Sabine traded in biking for kayaking when she moved to New Orleans, where, she says, “we have way too many potholes for me to keep up with my NYC biking habits! Now I love exploring bayous, lakes, and rivers around here. I can’t really ever get fully used to seeing an alligator in real life. I started learning how to weld during the pandemic, always have some sewing or printmaking project happening, and love to spend hours cooking elaborate meals for no particular reason. I have four nibblings (nieces and nephews), and I facetime them almost daily, which is one of my favorite daily routines,” she adds.

Sabine acknowledges that “grassroots and small-scale grantmaking can be frustrating — knowing that the need is so much larger than we will ever be able to fill. This is especially frustrating when I think of the big picture and know that the resources do exist in the world, they just aren’t being directed to the right places or people. When I see grassroots groups or small farmers doing important work and struggling to keep afloat, it really drives home how much deep inequality there is in the distribution of resources, funding, time, and capacity,” she points out. 

“In thinking of all the big, overwhelming issues and injustices — and how huge they can feel, especially right now — I have to make myself zoom in and ask, ‘what can I do here, in my community, in the way that I know how?’”