For much of human history, farming has been a way of life around the world. It’s never been easy work, and the challenges have only grown more complex in modern times. In the Valley, agriculture is embedded in our communities and in our landscape, but it’s still difficult for new farmers to get started.
Getting access to good farmland is the biggest hurdle. This is especially true for immigrants coming from other countries seeking a new life. So, when Kestrel helped the City of Northampton protect an 8-acre farm field that straddles the town line with Hatfield as part of a larger Fitzgerald Lake/Broad Brook conservation project, an opportunity emerged.
The Pioneer Valley Workers Center (PVWC), whose mission is to build the collective power of workers and immigrants in our region, was looking for farmland to support a new cooperative farm to be run by families from Central America. The field now owned by Kestrel and the City of Northampton was offered to the PVWC as a pilot program with the hope of establishing a long-term agreement for farming the land.
Strengthening Communities Together
The six members of this new worker coop are primarily families from Mexico and El Salvador. With support from PVWC and All Farmers—an affiliate of CISA—their goal is not only to grow crops for their families, but to establish a farm business that operates collectively and makes decisions democratically. Despite the fact that all of the members work 6 days a week at other jobs, their first harvest this year was a great success.
The Cooperative produced over 1,000 lbs of local produce, selling some at the nearby River Valley Coop and sharing more with their communities, proving this is fertile ground for hopes and dreams to take root in a new community.
Gabriella della Croce, a Lead Organizer with the PVWC, said, “We are tremendously grateful to Kestrel and the City of Northampton for their commitment to making land accessible to low-wage workers. Many of our members were subsistence farmers in their home countries, and bring decades of agricultural experience to their jobs on farms here.” Some of these farmers are already very familiar with local soils, having worked at other area farms.
“This will also be an opportunity to teach our children to love the Earth. So that they can see how food is grown and how from tiny seeds, something big can grow.”
Mark Wamsley, Conservation & Stewardship Manager at Kestrel Land Trust, said “Conserving local farmland is inherently about helping people and communities nourish themselves while reducing our collective impact on the planet. Some of these families came from areas of the world where droughts related to climate change have severely undermined local agriculture.”
A drought has decimated crops in Central America’s “dry corridor” along the Pacific Coast, impacting small-scale farmers. Droughts and other extreme weather events may continue to drive higher levels of migration from this and other regions of the world.
Fortunately, this small community of immigrants are finding a new home here in the Valley. Patti, one of the farm coop members, spoke with excitement about her long-term vision for the farm. “On this land we want to grow our own crops for our community. This will be land for us as Latinos, who come from other places.” She laughs as she watches her young son run around the open field and adds, “This will also be an opportunity to teach our children to love the Earth. So that they can see how food is grown and how from tiny seeds, something big can grow.”