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The Fruits of Their Labor

The Fruits of Their LaborAn increased interest in "buying local" is paving the way for the continued success of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project.

Boston [09.25.08] With farmers' markets "cropping" up all over the country, many consumers are turning away from their supermarket produce aisles in search of a taste of something local.

"Within the last year, we have seen a lot more awareness from customers who want programs like this to survive and become sustainable because they want to purchase local produce," say Kimberley Fitch, finance and program coordinator for the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (NESFP). "Our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program has way more demand than supply, and we have a long waiting list."

In addition to new trends in consumer purchasing, Fitch says trends have changed when it comes to the backgrounds of the program's participants. oen_ung_400

"In the past we have had solely immigrants-those are the people who have the farming background and express interest in pursuing farming when they get to the U.S.," Fitch says. "Farming is a lot of hard work it is hard to find natives who want to get involved. However, for the first time this year, we are seeing a new trend and a different kind of makeup of those interested in our program."

Fitch says NESFP's 2008 graduating class had two American-born participants and the 2009 class expects even more. "We are seeing more native-born participants wanting to take advantage of this trend that they are seeing with consumer demand for locally produced food," Fitch says. "They see a business opportunity and they want to jump in there and take advantage of it."

Now in its 10th year, NESFP is planning to celebrate another successful season with its seventh annual Harvest Fair, to be held at their main farming site, Richardson's Dairy Farm in Dracut, Mass., on Sept. 28. The event will include food, music, tours of the farm and a farmers' market where participants can sell their produce.

"In the past [the fair] has had a different slant," says Jennifer Hashley, project director for NESFP. "When we first started, it was really a place where project farmers could celebrate the end of the season-we would have a pig roast and everyone would bring food from their own country for a big pot luck. We did that until last year, when it became more of a community event, inviting our CSA shareholders and members of the Tufts community."

Hashley adds, "It's a nice time of year to come be on the farm, and for our CSA members who don't pick up their shares at farm, it is a great opportunity for them to see where their vegetables come from."

seona_ban_400Started in 1998, NESFP was initiated by the Agriculture, Food and Environment (AFE) Program of the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, becoming one of the first initiatives nationwide to assist immigrants and refugees with the development of commercial farming skills.

"The project really launched when a local farmer named John Ogonowski stepped up to provide land and mentor Cambodian farmers at his property in Dracut," Fitch says. "These farmers wanted a more formal education, looking to form skills on how to operate farming businesses and develop their markets. So this was where New Entry came on the scene and began a formal education program for people who wanted to learn to farm as a business." Ogonowski was piloting American Airlines Flight 11 when it was hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

NESFP's first training class was held in 2004 with farmers from all over the region, including the Fitchburg and Lowell areas, who then graduated and went to work on one of the program's two plots of land in Dracut and Lancaster. To date, the program has trained over 60 farmers, with the help of a number of interns from the AFE program.

"Folks who are coming to grad school for agriculture and environment are obviously interested in farming, so they naturally gravitate to our project," Hashley says. "We like to consider ourselves a living laboratory for the graduate students." On average, Hashley says that one-third to one-half of those enrolled in the AFE program work for NESFP, with a number of opportunities for students to do directed studies, internships or work study.

"We have students who help out with our farmer training courses and finding farm land," Hashley says. "A lot of the agricultural information that is out there is written at a really high literacy level, so we have some students developing a large series of plain language resource guides to help translate and explain this information in simple terms."

Hashley adds, "It's nice because the students can see that their work is really making a anne_fedrigo_photos_aug08_009_400difference and that their help is really needed."

Fitch says she expects a good turnout for this year's Harvest Fair and is hopeful that members of the Tufts community will take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about the program.

"It is a great way for them to learn firsthand about this program, meet the farmers, our staff and find out what's going on right now in the market and in the local food system."

Learn more about the New Entry program on their Web site or subscribe to the New Entry Blog.

Photos (from top to bottom): Oen Ung, '07 New Entry graduate from Cambodia, harvests water spinach. Seona Ban, '05 New Entry graduate from Cameroon, harvests sweet potato greens. Noeth Deth, '07 New Entry graduate from Cambodia, harvests fuzzy melon. 

Profile by Kaitlin Melanson, Web Communications.
Photos by Anne Fedrigo (c) 2008.

 

 

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