Sophie Ackoff is no stranger to environmental causes. In high school, she petitioned to get elephants removed from the Los Angeles Zoo and for the protection of boreal forests.
But it wasn’t until college that she joined a farm.
“It wasn’t really on my radar until I started visiting nearby farms during my free time,” said Ackoff, who studied biology and environmental studies at Wesleyan University.
Today, as the field director of the National Young Farmers Coalition, a grassroots network of 60,000 farmers and consumers, her goal is to fix the “broken food system,” on both a macro and micro level, she said.
The macro level entails affecting federal policy. “Farming should be an economically viable option,” she said. “We need to lobby for policies that make land affordable and available to beginning farmers, and policies that incentivize real food, instead of commodity operations. The future of agriculture in the United States depends on us.”
Working on the micro level means encouraging farmers to implement sustainable farming practices that sustain healthy soil, water and air and protect the climate.
“Farming is a community project—taking care of our spot of earth is better for the environment and for the people who are a part of it,” she said.
Ackoff, who worked on several organic farms in the Hudson Valley before joining NYFC full time, doesn’t mind getting dirty. On an average day on the farm you might have found her in muck boots, transplanting seasonal plants from the greenhouses to the fields. In order to plant cabbage and kohlrabi, she used a hori hori knife, an ancient Japanese hand tool used for digging holes.
“You definitely have to scrub your fingernails,” she said, laughing.
Growing up in a Reform Jewish community in Los Angeles, Jewish values have always motivated her work. Her bat mitzvah portion dealt with the laws of allowing the land to lay fallow every seventh year.
“Judaism is sensitive to the land,” she said. “Being accountable to the earth is a Jewish value.”
Though it’s been hard to connect with Jewish life in the Hudson Valley, she’s hoping to start making Shabbat dinners on the farm.
“Growing food ultimately grows community,” she said.
Going the distance: Sophie likes to run long-distance with her dog, Sutter. She is training for her second marathon this year.