CAGJ Activist Profile: Deb Orieta

Deb holds up a heart-shaped heirloom tomato as they smile at the cameraFor the month of December, we are highlighting the wonderful work of Deb Orieta. Deb started out with CAGJ as Rise Up! Summer School Coordinator in the Spring of 2022, and then transitioned to organizing and communications support. They have a degree in Geography and Food Studies, and since graduating have been working with nonprofits doing environmental and food systems curriculum work and communications. Currently based in Upstate New York, Deb is interested in growing the food sovereignty movement. In their free time, Deb enjoys making things, reading, and walks in the sunshine.

What led you to working with CAGJ? I started working with CAGJ out of an intense need to find and work in community. When I discovered CAGJ, I had just finished an undergrad in Geography and Food Studies at Syracuse University, with a focus on agroecology as climate resilience in my home of Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I was displaced and struggling to find community where I ended up, in Seattle. Because things were all happening on zoom at that point, I joined the Food Justice Project, where I presented on some of the problems with the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit. Shortly thereafter, I was recruited to coordinate CAGJ’s Rise Up! Summer School. I was thrilled to get to work alongside other talented organizers, educators and food systems advocates to put together an introductory food sovereignty curriculum– it was so much fun, and a very important learning experience for me. After Summer School wrapped up, I continued to work with CAGJ, helping with communications and providing general organizing support.

What does food sovereignty mean to you? To me, food sovereignty means care. Care for each other, for the planet, for the food that we eat. I see food sovereignty as a sort of utopic goal, a guiding light towards a future that will be kinder to everyone. Crucially, though, moving towards that goal requires mobilizing as collectives in all the different forms that it takes: farming, educating, advocating for change, unlearning harmful systems…

Where do you see CAGJ in 5-10 years? I see CAGJ as a “coming together” space. I think CAGJ has been very effective at bringing together different stakeholders across the food system and facilitating working sessions that lead to powerful campaigns. In 5-10 years, I see CAGJ continuing in this role, with increased capacity to build broader coalitions.

Can you tell us one favorite aspect of your work with CAGJ? One of my favorite aspects of working with CAGJ is the people I get to work with. My position brings me into contact with a host of different people engaged in liberatory work across various entry points in our food system. Each of them comes to the table with their own skills and contributions, and through them, I learn a little bit more about what is possible in this work.

What is one growing edge you think CAGJ can work on? Like many nonprofits, CAGJ is struggling with capacity! I believe our work will be much stronger if we are able to find ways to bring in more people as organizers and counsel, especially within our leadership bodies. I’d love to see us be able to raise enough money to also compensate folks for this work!

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