Interview with Herminia Gomez, Hispanic-Serving Institution Liaison for the U.S. Department of Agriculture

by Sycamore May

Herminia Gomez serves as the Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) Liaison for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the Northeast region. In her capacity as a USDA Liaison, Herminia connects students, faculty, and staff with USDA resources to foster career exploration, research opportunities, and professional development connecting them with programs, ranging from internships and scholarships for the students to fellowships and research grants for faculty and staff. 

Based on her extensive knowledge of the diverse career opportunities available within the USDA, Herminia provides comprehensive support and guidance to all those interested in pursuing careers in fields such as accounting, science, management, foreign service, firefighting, law enforcement, nutrition, veterinary medicine, analysis, and technology.

Her previous experience includes roles in the Peace Corps, higher education admissions, and academic advising. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Hunter College as well as a bachelor’s in gender as a form of expression, and a master’s in higher education administration from NYU. 

Food Policy Center: Thank you for participating in this interview! To start, can you say what sparked your interest in becoming a USDA liaison focusing on Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) in the Northeast?

Herminia Gomez: Growing up in New York City, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to learn about agriculture or where my food came from. I also never considered federal employment. I am now able to raise awareness of the different career paths available with the federal government in the field of agriculture, and to encourage everyone to think about food systems. I love weaving diversity, equity, and inclusion into my work. My current role allows me to work with diverse audiences in order to expand access to USDA resources among underrepresented communities.

FPC: How does your experience in strategic partnership management, particularly in the context of university programs and community development, help you to advance food policy initiatives as a USDA Liaison?

HG: As a USDA liaison, I am very conscious of connecting with nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions that address food policy at the local, regional, and national levels. I am particularly interested in ensuring that they are aware of the resources available to them through the USDA. That means sharing information about USDA programs, grants, fellowships, and collaboration opportunities.

FPC: What are some examples of how you’ve successfully collaborated with diverse stakeholders, including farmers, ranchers, and community organizations, to address food-related challenges?

HG:  I assist in disseminating information about USDA opportunities. For example, the Office of Partnership and Public Engagement (OPPE) manages the 2501 Program, which helps veterans and underserved farmers, ranchers, and foresters. I also share information with my contacts regarding section 22007 of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which provides financial assistance to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who have experienced discrimination in the USDA’s farm-lending programs prior to January 2021. Additionally, this year I will be working closely with the High School Equivalency Program (HEP) and the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) to offer paid 10-week summer internships in Washington, D.C., to students from farmworker backgrounds.

One of my main responsibilities is to ensure that underrepresented stakeholders, including farmers, ranchers and communities experiencing food challenges, have information about the USDA resources available to them.

FPC: How do you ensure equitable access to USDA food programs and initiatives for underrepresented communities, especially in urban neighborhoods in New York?

HG: I speak to students and staff at several Hispanic Serving Institutions in New York City to ensure that they are aware not only of the opportunities available through the USDA, but also of  the many different ways in which they interact with USDA on a daily basis. I describe the USDA-funded national food programs available in their area, and I have found that many college campuses and nonprofits have also been working on their own initiatives by supporting food pantries and helping students learn more about public benefits like SNAP.

FPC: Are there any specific food-policy priorities or initiatives you want to focus on in your role as a USDA Liaison, particularly in the northeast and mid-atlantic regions?

HG: One USDA initiative I am focusing on is the growth of urban agriculture, what it looks like, what is needed, and how we can continue to encourage its growth. The USDA assists urban, small-scale, and innovative producers with growing, processing,and selling, and it offers technical and financial assistance for a variety of growing operations including community farms and gardens, rooftop, indoor and vertical farms, and hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic facilities. I also enjoy sharing the best practices of my academic and nonprofit partners. For example, LaGuardia Community College will be opening an Urban Farm and hydroponics Research Center, and NY Sun Works is a nonprofit that builds hydroponic classrooms in K-12 schools to teach the science of suitability and climate education through the lens of urban farming. These educational efforts can help communities experiencing food deserts gain access to fresh produce.

FPC: How do you foster collaboration between USDA agencies and local universities, researchers, and policymakers to address food insecurity and promote sustainable food systems?

HG: There are a few ways to think about this question. As a USDA liaison, I am constantly encouraging high school and college students to consider USDA careers. A more diverse workforce will ensure that the USDA is considering the many ways to address food insecurity and promote sustainable food systems.

I also promote grant and fellowship opportunities to university researchers that will shape the next generation of agricultural professionals, advance research in agricultural sciences, and address food security concerns. For example, my office manages the E. Kika De La Garza Fellowship, which is open to university staff and faculty from Hispanic-Serving Institutions. Faculty and staff spend a week in Washington, D.C,. meeting with USDA representatives to learn about opportunities available to their institutions and their students. The E. Kika De La Garza Fellowship also offers a science track for researchers who get to spend an additional week collaborating with a USDA scientist. All of this is to ensure that communities are aware of the various resources available to them while also giving the USDA an opportunity to exchange information, ideas and solutions with the best available science.


Grew up in: El Salvador and Queens, NY (moved to Jamaica, Queens, when I was ten)

City or town you call home: Jamaica, Queens

Job title: USDA Liaison

Background and education: I worked in CUNY admissions for seven years before joining the Peace Corps in 2014. I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Moldova from 2014-2016. Most people I knew in Moldova had a garden or a small parcel of land where they grew vegetables and fruit. The soil there is very rich, and everything tasted amazing during their harvest season!

Bachelor’s in sociology, Hunter College (2016)

Master’s in Higher Education Administration (2008)

Bachelor’s  in “Gender as a form of Expression” from the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Studies (2005)

Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens (2001)

One word you would use to describe our food system:  Complex

Food policy hero: César Chávez

Your breakfast this morning: Eggs, toast, avocado

Favorite food: Pupusas

Favorite food hangout: Too many to list! Absolutely love Mexican restaurants in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Food policy social media must follow: On X, formally known as twitter: @USDANutrition and @USDA_OCE

Related Articles

Subscribe To Weekly NYC Food Policy Watch Newsletter
Subscribe to our weekly email newsletter today to receive updates on the latest news, reports and event information
No Thanks
Thanks for signing up. You must confirm your email address before we can send you. Please check your email and follow the instructions.
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will never be shared.
Don't miss out. Subscribe today.