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Yakima Valley woman appointed chair of Latino/Hispanic farm group

One of the most influential voices in Yakima County for the rights of Latinos/Hispanics has been appointed chair of a newly formed national organization.

Luz Bazan Gutierrez, who oversees the Rural Community Development Resources program, was named at the beginning of November the chairperson for the National Association of Latino/Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers in Washington D.C.

"I think it has been something that has been coming for a long time," said Bazan Gutierrez.

Through this newly formed organization, Bazan Gutierrez is hoping to open more doors for Latino/Hispanic farmers and ranchers across the country.

"We have organized ourselves to ensure that our Latino farmers have equal access and equity in obtaining resources from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which, in our opinion, are being distributed inequitably and the USDA continues its discriminatory resource of allocation practices."

Agriculture is something embedded in the past of Bazan Gutierrez, whose father was a dairy farmer.

Bazan Gutierrez's involvement in helping form an organization to promote the needs of Latino/Hispanic farmers and ranchers dates back to 1997. She was invited to attend a conference in Washington D.C., where she learned about the needs of Latino farmers. Bazan Gutierrez said she realized at the conference that Latino/Hispanic farmers were having a difficult time obtaining government assistance. But other groups, such as an organization devised to promote African American farmers, were obtaining assistance through the USDA.

"Many of the resources were not reaching Latino farmers," said Bazan Gutierrez. "None of those (agencies or groups) really understand our plight."

Bazan Gutierrez also has the distinction of being the only Latina from the Pacific Northwest to serve on the National Farm Advisory Committee under President Bill Clinton, a roll she held for two years.

Three years ago, Bazan Gutierrez helped obtain a grant that set up the formation of the Center for Latino Farmers. Through the efforts of the organization, said Bazan Gutierrez, this year marks the first time that Latino farmers have been first in the federal cycle to apply for low interest loans through USDA.

The Center for Latino Farmers has helped educate Latino/Hispanic farmers on what is needed to run a farm. Filling out the necessary paperwork for such items as loans is something farmers often overlook, said Bazan Gutierrez. The organization teaches farmers to fill out paperwork and other ways to promote their industry.

As chair of the National Association of Latino/Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers, Bazan Gutierrez oversees a four-person board of directors. She is also working with Rudy Arredondo of Washington D.C., who has been named interim president of the organization.

"We have been getting a lot of support," said Bazan Gutierrez.

Bazan Gutierrez will be returning to Washington D.C. in the next few weeks for a planning conference with the board of directors. The board will be working on such efforts as devising a five-year operation plan and developing programs that help connect Latino/Hispanic farmers and ranchers with USDA programs.

Bazan Gutierrez said she is very excited about the prospects of what the new association can do for farmers and ranchers.

"Their success is our success and our success is their success," said Bazan Gutierrez. "They want to be successful farmers. They just want to be given the same opportunities."

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