Martin Guerena with Golden Pliers award

NCAT’s Martin Guerena Honored With “Golden Pliers” Award

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By Rich Myers, NCAT Outreach Specialist

When the winner of the Golden Pliers Award was announced at this year’s EcoFarm Conference in Monterey, California, it caught NCAT’s Martin Guerena off guard.

“I wasn’t really paying much attention,” Martin said, “but about two minutes into the introduction, I thought, ‘Hmmm, this sounds like my resume.’ And it was.”

The Ecological Farming Association (EcoFarm) is a nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to nurture safe, healthy, just, and ecologically sustainable farms, food systems, and communities by bringing people together for education, alliance building, advocacy, and celebration.

Founded in 1981, the annual EcoFarm Conference is the oldest and largest organic farming conference West of the Mississippi. EcoFarm supplements the conference with other events throughout the year.

According to the EcoFarm website, the Golden Pliers Award is given to an individual volunteer or group “who has consistently served over the years to better the conference, the organization, and the larger EcoFarm family.”

EcoFarm Executive Director Andy Fisher cited a story, which may or may not be true, about how the award was named. It seems a plumber dropped his pliers into a toilet he was working on, but didn’t hesitate to grab them again and complete his task.

“’Golden pliers’ is given to someone who can get … stuff done,” he said.

The award may have been a surprise to Martin, but it wasn’t to anyone else.

“If there’s anyone who deserves this honor, it’s Martin,” said NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson. “His career has been marked by a remarkable dedication to sustainable agriculture, both in his home state of California and elsewhere.

“Martin’s work is a fine example of what we strive to accomplish at NCAT.”

Ann Baier, another NCAT Sustainable Agriculture Specialist, helped EcoFarm keep Martin’s award close to the vest until the presentation.

“Martin is a wonderful person to know and work with, and I continue to learn as I hear his perspective and wisdom,” Ann said. “It’s been a lot of years. The longer I know him, the more I appreciate him.”

“Martin very directly serves the needs of diverse small farmers. Spanish speaking, indigenous, Black, people of color, Asian, and people who defy categorization. He’s fluent in both academic and field languages. Martin treats everyone with respect, gathers understanding, and puts the pieces together. He can deliver useful information and get the room laughing all at the same time.”

Martin and other volunteers recognized at the conference go above and beyond helping EcoFarm accomplish its goals, Andy said.

“Indeed, Martin has been a stalwart for us, especially in Spanish communication and in helping mobilize workshops for Latino farmers.” EcoFarm puts on about 10 workshops a year aimed at the Spanish speaking community.

Martin said he’s been attending the conference for many years, and it was a special treat to be able to talk to participants in person after the pandemic rendered the conference virtual for a couple of years.

Now, Martin’s name will be engraved on the Golden Pliers Award trophy, and he’ll present it to next year’s winner.

“It’s like the Stanley Cup,” he said with a laugh.

The 2023 EcoFarm Conference workshops and keynote addresses will be posted in the coming weeks on EcoFarm’s website.