FOR PEOPLE WHO MUST LEAVE THEIR HOMES under difficult circumstances, starting a new life in a foreign country is never easy. And, if farming was their livelihood, finding land to call their own in a new country can seem totally out of reach. The barriers are many: transportation, financing, perhaps even language.
Fortunately, innovative collaborations may be able to offer support to people facing this situation as they immigrate to our region. For the past several years, Kestrel has been building a partnership with Springfield-based All Farmers—a nonprofit whose mission is to provide land, training, and representation for refugee and immigrant farmers.
Kestrel’s Conservation Director, Mark Wamsley, first connected with Hannah Spare, Executive Director of All Farmers, through the Forever Farmland Initiative (FFI). As a regional conservation partnership group founded by Kestrel in 2010, FFI’s main focus is to increase farmland conservation in Western Massachusetts. The organizations around the table at the time of its founding were almost entirely land trusts that worked with mostly older white farmers. But as Mark began leading FFI in 2016, he was looking for new approaches not only to conserve farmland but to ensure that different people—and broader topics related to conserving farmland—were part of the conversation.
All Farmers works with people from African and Asian countries like Somalia, Kenya, Bhutan, and Vietnam. Hannah recognized that land trusts could provide essential services to help secure land for these farmers, including searching for available land and navigating the conservation process. And so a collaboration began.
Partnering with All Farmers and the diverse communities it serves has required asking new questions, Mark said. “What are the different needs and abilities of these communities? Some have cars; some don’t. Some can drive 45 minutes to farmland; others can’t. Some want to grow food to feed their families, while others want to grow a business and build equity.”
The search for suitable land began in 2020, but finding the right property in the right place to address these varied needs has been challenging. Fortunately, the efforts are beginning to pay off.
Collaboration Brings Opportunities
In 2021, Kestrel and All Farmers discovered the Dewey Street property in West Springfield: 7 acres of farmland located on a bus line. The parcel was small and included wetlands, so it wasn’t ideal. However, Hannah saw that the land was easily accessible, secluded, and good for family garden plots, which could meet some of their farmers’ needs.
The funds needed to purchase the land were secured when a representative from Eversource Energy reached out to Kestrel about a mitigation project. Eversource was looking to conserve property with wetlands, which the Dewey Street property has. After several conversations with Mark, Eversource offered All Farmers the funding needed to acquire and conserve the property.
Following this success, last year Kestrel and All Farmers found in a nearby town the type of prime property they had originally set out to find. Though initially not for sale, persistence brought progress, and we hope to close on this new, larger and more ideal parcel of land later this summer.
Mark reflected, “There are differences in languages, cultures, perspectives, and goals, and we’re learning how to take time and learn about the communities we’re serving so we can all do the best work possible.”