Nuestras Raices: Growing New Farmers and Opportunities

Written by Christine Bell, WhyHunger Intern

This post is part of WhyHunger’s peer mentor profile series for the “Community Learning Project for Food Justice” (CLP).  Each week through April 2012, we’ll highlight a new CLP peer mentor and their contribution to creating a national learning/teaching community to support the growth and expansion of the food justice movement.

Nuestras Raices, which means “our roots,” is a grassroots organization that promotes economic, human and community development in Holyoke, MA through projects relating to food, agriculture, and the environment. Most members of the organization grew up as farmers in rural Puerto Rico and Nuestras Raices enables them to retain a connection to their cultural and heritage while beginning a new life in the city of Holyoke.

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Nuestras Raices projects include community gardens, youth leadership experiences, environmental justice organizing, and the Nuestras Raices Farm.  Currently Nuestras Raices manages eight community gardens and two youth gardens throughout the city; however they plan to expand their garden network every year.  Nuestras Raices runs a youth volunteer program each summer; teaching teens how to farm and garden, paint murals, and about Puerto Rican culture.  This program empowers participants to make healthy eating choices and become active members of their community, participating in planning meetings and running health and environmental education workshops for their peers.

To enable and empower community gardeners to make the transition from small urban farmers to producing on a more commercial level, Nuestras Raices has partnered with the USDS  National Resources Conservation Services to create a farm, La Finca, along the banks of the Connecticut River.  In addition to providing training for members looking to become commercial farmers, La Finca also includes 15 beginning farms, nature trails, an outdoors stage, tropical crops, a farm stand, a horse barn, and a petting zoo.  The farm acts as a place for new business incubation, projects in environmental stewardship and conservation, and youth and cultural development programs.  Workshops in farming, selling produce, and making your farm run as a successful business are offered on site for community members and Nuestras Raices farmers and their families.

As CLP peer mentors, Nuestras Raices is sharing information on how they started their beginning famer and small farm business incubator project as well as their youth program model. In exchange, they are learning and developing the skills they need to set up a community owned and operated composting operation.

WhyHunger is proud to be working with Nuestras Raices as one of 15 peer mentors participating in the Community Learning Project for Food Justice (CLP).  Click here to learn more about the Community Learning Project for Food Justice and this year’s crop of peer mentors.

Lorrie Clevenger