Tessa Parks is a young beginning farmer of color working to transform the landscape in Southern Minnesota. Along with her husband–also a beginning farmer–she owns and operates W.T. Farms, raising Holstein steers from calf to butcher and running a custom haying service. On-farm, Tessa uses livestock to build soil health through regenerative practices like winter bale grazing, but she is also an active advocate for emerging farmers, organic agriculture, and civic engagement.

Over the past two years, Tessa emerged as a well-respected leader and peer at Minnesota Farmers Union. She was chosen to represent her region as a delegate to the National Farmers Union, and while at the conference, she offered successful resolutions to improve the organization’s policy on climate change. Since then, she was selected to serve on the policy committee for the state convention, working with other farmers to incorporate new resolutions into the policy book. She thoughtfully considered the intent and context of each new resolution, even when she may have disagreed with the position, and offered new language to improve and strengthen the policy around organic agriculture and emerging farmers. Recently, Tessa became the president of the Rice County Farmers Union chapter, where she continues to grow the membership and impact of the organization with her community.

Beyond her work in Farmers Union, Tessa is an original member of the Commons Cohort at Sharing Our Roots. Off-farm, she works with the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association as an organic certification specialist, where she works with farmers to implement organic plans for certification.

Tessa Parks's Interview

Tessa Parks’ creativity in the face of a primarily white agricultural space has had a pronounced impact on other emerging farmers. From her capacity building in her region, to her intentional relationship work and policy engagement, to her own management and use of regenerative practices on her family farm, Tessa is fostering an innovative, more equitable future for new BIPOC farmers in Minnesota.

Emerging Leader Evaluation Team

About the Emerging Leader Category

The Emerging Leader Award recognizes an individual under the age of 30 working in cutting-edge ways to build partnerships and innovative solutions to address environmental health or environmental justice challenges.

As part of a continued effort to embody Dakota values and share resources with others, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) is proud to sponsor the Emerging Leader award. Caring for Uŋci Maka (Grandmother Earth) and being a good steward of the earth is at the heart of what the SMSC strives to do—now and for future generations. Bringing Uŋci Maka back to a path of balance with modern life will take extraordinary commitments, strong leadership, and groundbreaking ideas. The passion displayed by young leaders in our community to build partnerships and innovative solutions to address environmental health and environmental justice challenges gives us hope of a more sustainable and equitable future for all. We congratulate this year’s Emerging Leader award winner and know that their work will inspire our friends and neighbors to join in the great work that remains.