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This UC Davis professor became a farmer to promote social justice

Dr. Robyn Rodriguez and Joshua Vang have been living on the farm for more than a year. | Courtesy Reimagination Farm

A UC Davis professor has moved her classroom into the farming world to teach and promote social justice issues to her students.

Robyn Rodriguez, 50, a former faculty and department chair at the Department of Asian American Studies, resigned from her position in March and will launch an innovative “Reimagination Farm” in early May.

The 8-acre farm is in Lake County, about a 2½ hour drive north of San Francisco. The Rodriguez family, including her husband, Joshua Vang, has already been living there for more than a year.

“We are committed to a more regenerative approach to farming,” Rodriguez told The Standard, “which means that we are being very mindful of how to replenish the soil.”

Robyn Rodriguez and her son, “Zee” Rodriguez Vang, pose for a photo at the farm. | Courtesy Reimagination Farm

The farm, a social enterprise project, will focus on sustainable farming techniques and provide in-person learning curriculums for visitors on nature awareness, Indigenous and land-based knowledge, ethnic studies, Asian American activism and other topics.

UC Davis developed as an agricultural institution, becoming a research powerhouse with a highly regarded veterinary school as well as a Department of Viticulture and Enology that has worked to improve California’s enormous wine industry. 

During the pandemic, though, Rodriguez felt frustrated about the university, which she thought “really is a corporation,” as it had deprioritized ethnic studies and, in her opinion, failed to serve the interests of students in favor of simply earning tuition money. She thought that moving the classroom to the farm would allow her to educate a broader audience who wants to learn.

“I decided to extend ethnic studies knowledge, Asian American studies knowledge, differently and outside the university context,” she said. “There's such a deep desire for this kind of knowledge among many people.”

Elements of Asian agriculture, such as tools and plantations, will be the highlight of the farm. Rodriguez, who is Filipina American, will operate the land alongside her Hmong American husband.

Rodriguez also wants to continue the progressive legacy of her late son, Amado Khaya Canham Rodriguez, and part of the launching project is a “healing house” named in his honor. Amado died in 2020 at the age of 22 while working with Indigenous communities in the Philippines. The house is about 20 minutes from the Reimagination Farm with a view of Clear Lake and can serve as “a refuge and sanctuary,” according to Rodriguez.

“Zee” Rodriguez Vang, 7, is the main caretaker of the goats. | Courtesy Reimagination Farm

Both the farm and healing house can host retreat events for guests and the nearby area has plenty of opportunities for hiking, fishing, kayaking and other outdoor activities. The farm is home to dozens of chickens and Rodriguez’s 7-year-old son, “Zee” Rodriguez Vang, is the main caretaker of the goats.

“We just had a new baby goat born this morning,” Rodriguez said. “That puts our total goat population at 13 now.”

Reimagination Farm

Kelseyville, Calif.
Opens May 6