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Claudia Ochoa (center) is pictured working with the team from Barberry Hill Farm to market its products at the farmers market in New Haven’s Wooster Square in July 2021.

Listening to and Learning from Farmers

Environmental lawyer Claudia Ochoa says policymakers could benefit from talking more to independent farmers about how they are adapting to climate change.

By Theresa Sullivan Barger

Claudia Ochoa ’22 MEM has worked on climate change issues at the national and international levels, but her internship at a New Haven nonprofit taught her that real change starts at the local level — with the farmers.  

Ochoa, an environmental lawyer from Peru, learned about how farmers are problem-solving and adapting to climate change while working for CitySeed, a New Haven-based nonprofit that promotes economic and community development and sustainable agriculture. It is run by Cortney Renton ’20 MEM.

“We need to listen to the people who already have the tools and knowledge to adapt to climate change. Maybe there are not enough people at the national and international level listening to those voices.”

Claudia Ochoa ’22 MEM

Heat waves, unpredictable and extreme weather, and soil degradation — all symptoms of climate change — have made farming much more difficult. 

To dig deeper into the challenges farmers are facing, she immersed herself in CitySeed’s network, listening to the people it serves so she could help write grants for it. She met with immigrant and refugee chefs from several nations who prepare meals at CitySeed’s Sanctuary Kitchen, cooked meals herself, and visited the farmers market every Saturday.  

“I’m convinced that most of the solutions already exist. The knowledge comes from the vendors in the farmers market,” she says.

To adapt to climate changes, farmers are making several modifications, including finding more suitable locations to grow their fruits and vegetables, switching to different varieties, and amending harvest and transportation techniques, Ochoa learned. For example, climate change conditions have made red tomatoes less flavorful, so farmers are growing more yellow tomatoes, which better maintain their flavor in drought conditions. To adapt to heavy rain in shorter periods of time — which causes fruit grown in fields, such as strawberries, to become waterlogged and lose their sweetness — farmers have added soil to elevate the fruit and allow excessive water to flow away from the roots and plants. In the past, farmers were able to transport their fruit to market without refrigeration, but extreme summer heat has caused the fruit to overripen on the trip. So they have started packing their produce in ice and coolers to keep it from spoiling.

“It is all about knowing more about the projections of climate and how it will affect different things: land, water, biodiversity, and other factors,” she says.  

While at YSE, Ochoa says she gained valuable knowledge of forests that will help in her future environmental law work with developers. Through her silviculture class and experience at Yale-Myers Forest, she developed a better understanding of different ecosystems and forest management techniques used to protect biodiversity and help forests adapt to climate change.

That hands-on, lived experience was unlike anything she could learn from a book, and it deepened her understanding of land use issues, the history of the land, Indigenous communities, and biodiversity, she says.  

After she completes her master’s degree, she plans to enroll in a doctoral program in social sciences and continue working on climate change and biodiversity projects that allow her to connect local actions to global solutions.  

“We need to listen to the people who already have the tools and knowledge to adapt to climate change,” Ochoa says. “Maybe there are not enough people at the national and international level listening to those voices.”