Hi! I’m Siena Chrisman. Thanks for stopping by.
I’m a freelance writer and researcher and a commentator on farm policy and politics. I’m especially interested in progressive farm/rural activism and how the struggles of rural America can have major implications for national politics.
I’ve been writing about, organizing, and advocating for food system change professionally for nearly 15 years, supporting grassroots-up, community-based change. My heroes are the small farmers, farmworkers, urban growers in marginalized communities, and others who are fighting every day and often against great odds to preserve their livelihoods, families, communities, and even their lives.
For my part, I grew up in rural western Massachusetts with back-to-the-land parents, eating from our garden and getting milk from a farmer down the road. I studied international agriculture and development at Mount Holyoke College, and was struck by how the political impacted the personal, like how the lives of women farmers in India were being destroyed by global economic policies. Living in Italy after college, where food was central to in daily life in a way it rarely was in the US, I noticed how whole I felt in a culture that valued food — and thought how that connection to one’s food was a right everyone should have.
I eventually moved to New York City – perhaps an odd place to find work in food and farming – and landed at WhyHunger, a grassroots support organization, where I got to work with incredible organizers improving their neighborhoods through gardens; farmworkers who won victories from McDonalds and Burger King; Midwestern farmers fighting to hold onto their farms despite falling prices; and many more. Besides the tenacity and fight of all of these communities, there was a common thread: the ever-growing concentration of agribusiness and its control over all parts of people’s lives, both urban and rural.
In more than five years as a freelance writer and researcher, that control – and those still fighting back – have become my main focus. I’ve delved into how state livestock policies prop up factory farms, the obstacles small scale farmers face getting their meat to market, unfair poultry contracts, monopolistic dairy cooperatives, and much more, while hearing from farmers about what kinds of solutions they want. Along the same lines, I’m working now on a book about the progressive farmer activists of the 1980s farm crisis, documenting one of the last periods of loud and sustained multi-sectoral rural protest, seeing what we can learn from them in our current time of great urban/rural divides and scapegoating.