The Amy Awards: Kattia Jimenez fosters land ownership for minority farmers

Owner of Mount Horeb Hemp is recipient of 2022 Amy Award
Kattia
Photo by Hillary Schave
Kattia Jimenez

In a lush valley south of Mount Horeb, Kattia Jimenez works the 14-acre farmland she never expected to own. A proud Costa Rican immigrant raised in Seattle, Jimenez worked for the Centers for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for more than a decade, traveling to 82 U.S. counties. Even after she met her future husband on a fateful two-week visit to Mount Horeb in the mid-2000s, she never intended to settle, let alone become a business owner and hemp farmer. But that’s exactly what she did in 2018 — the same year hemp farming became legal — when she took a job at the UW–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health with the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program and started her own company, Mount Horeb Hemp. Early on, one name came up.

“Someone suggested I email Amy,” says Jimenez. Gannon loved that Jimenez was taking the unlikely plunge into hemp farming and entrepreneurship, particularly in an agricultural industry that is wholly dependent on immigrant labor but rarely supportive of land ownership by those workers. Sadly, Gannon died before Jimenez got to meet her.

Jimenez has since built a thriving farm that serves as a meeting ground connecting VFW veterans, politicians, activists and CEOs. While cannabis is divisive, hemp is a uniter, says Jimenez, who considers land ownership a privilege. Infrastructure and institutions have critical roles to play, so Jimenez is always forging connections and sharing knowledge — for example by donating her licensing paperwork to Mount Horeb’s Driftless Historium so that other would-be farmers can access it — to make it easier for others to do what she’s done.

“Sometimes there’s a feeling that some of these places and spaces are not for me, they’re for other people,” she says, “but they’re not.”

In Gannon’s spirit, Jimenez has cultivated connections by inviting other powerful women to the farm, including Step Up: Equity Matters CEO Tania Ibarra, who nominated her for this award.

“What I love about her work is her connection between agriculture and policy and sustainability,” says Ibarra. “[And] she is the only woman of color in the hemp farming business in Wisconsin that we know of.”

Jimenez’s dream is to foster more land ownership among farmers like her, particularly at a time when family farms are increasingly dependent on immigrant labor as younger generations opt out of agriculture. At the same time, there is growing interest in small-scale farming and local food systems. Taking a page from student loan forgiveness, Jimenez wonders what could happen if the government championed programs that gave land to farmers, who could then work to own it.

“When I’m thinking big, as I know Amy would want us all to do, I think there has to be a way that we can take all of that passion and interest in agriculture … and an older/retiring population … and find programs and ways of being creative about joining those things,” she says. “It’s time.”

Maggie Ginsberg is senior editor at Madison Magazine.

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