New leader of Sharing Our Roots looks to take organization to the next level
Rocky Casillas Aguirre has been named as the new executive director of Sharing Our Roots, which owns a 100-acre parcel of land in Northfield that will be used this year by a diverse group of vegetable and livestock farmers.
NORTHFIELD, Minn. ― Sharing Our Roots is a nonprofit organization with a mission to “advance a resilient agriculture system that demonstrates the power to heal our lands, nourish our communities and prepare emerging farmers,” according to its website.
The organization owns a 100-acre parcel of land in Northfield that will be used this year by a diverse group of vegetable and livestock farmers.
Sharing Our Roots recently named Rocky Casillas Aguirre as its new executive director. Aguirre is originally from Tijuana, Mexico but was raised in Northfield and has been part of the community for almost two decades. He’s been with the nonprofit for about six years, most recently as operations manager.
“Rocky embodies the culture and values of the organization, is locally grounded and brings his community network to our work,” said Megan O’Hara, chair of the board for Sharing Our Roots. “He also brings cultural experience and a personal understanding of the challenges immigrants and young farmers face in our farming and food systems.”
Along with a cohort of farmers that will be “launching their ag enterprises” on the nonprofit’s parcel of land, Sharing Our Roots also addresses food insecurity in the community.
“We have a team of community connectors who do food distributions and support local community gardens as a way for people to grow food for themselves, or to sell,” said Aguirre. “So we have a lot of programming, both on the farm and out in the community.”
One of those community connectors is Noemi Carreon, a long-time volunteer of Sharing Our Roots whose goal will be to help connect Latinx farmers in the Northfield area to land and resources, as well as address food insecurity in low-income neighborhoods. Carreon moved to Minnesota from Coahuila, Mexico, over 20 years ago and has since been an active volunteer in her community.
When Aguirre returned home to Northfield after he earned his bachelor’s degree in wildlife management from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in conservation from Antioch University in New England, he connected with Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, the president and CEO of the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance.
Haslett-Marroquin taught Aguirre how to raise free-range chickens at his farm in Northfield. That led to Aguirre landing the position of poultry assistant at Sharing Our Roots, which eventually led him to various other roles with the nonprofit.
“Now we're here, and I've been given the opportunity to lead the organization as executive director,” he said.
Aguirre said the work done by the nonprofit has evolved in the time it’s been around, and it’s his goal to take the organization to the next level.
“We're providing opportunities for immigrants and low-income families, and people of color who have been marginalized and discriminated against for so long,” he said. “And so for me, it's a way to give back to my community — to the community that raised me, so it’s just really exciting to be a part of something that is happening in my hometown.”
He said that some of his priorities as executive director are to expand and diversify the board.
“I think both of those things are really important, so having the opportunity to help shape this organization and help lead it to the next level is just a really great opportunity,” he said. “I'm really humbled and honored to be able to do this, especially at my age, because it doesn't seem like there are a lot of executive directors in their 20s.”
Land to farm
Aguirre said the 100-acre farm is meant to be “home base” for farmers who don't have access to land otherwise. The 14 farmers who were on the farmland owned by Sharing Our Roots last year will be coming back this year, and Aguirre said many of them will be expanding their production.
“The farmers will be growing food themselves, and we're just basically a support system,” he said. “We provide land access, infrastructure access, and access to resources and technical assistance.”
2022 will be the pilot year for the cohort of farmers who will be working together as well as independently.
“These 14 farmers that will be out there represent seven different enterprises, so some of them will be growing botanicals, others mixed vegetables, and there's also cattle out there,” said Aguirre, who added that there will also be a couple of Kenyan farmers who will be raising chickens. “So it's quite a diversity of farmers and businesses that will be going on at the farm this year.”