Meet Cathy, the Cooperative Development Institute’s new answerwoman! She can take on any co-op questions you might have, big or small. Today we address the questions: “How can co-ops benefit immigrant/New American workers?” See all of Cathy’s answers and ask your own on her home page. This blog post was written by Jonah Fertig, cooperative developer for CDI.
Farming is a difficult business to enter into. You have to know how to grow great vegetables and raise healthy animals. You will need to market your farm and track your business financials. You need to be able to do customer service, repair equipment, start early in the morning and so much more. And you need land and money to get started.
New American farmers in the Northeast are facing all those challenges and more. There are language, cultural, and financial barriers, along with lack of land access, that makes farming for these immigrants and refugees additionally challenging. Yet despite these obstacles, Somali Bantus, Central American Latinos, Bhutanese and others are starting new cooperative farms in the Northeast.
In the past decade, with the arrival of new immigrants coming from agricultural backgrounds, nonprofits in the Northeast and across the country have started farm training programs that assist these farmers in adjusting to farming in America. Each program is different but generally these programs involve training in organic farming practices, marketing, financial accounting, food safety, customer service, English language learning, and more.
As farmers have grown in these programs, they have looked forward to the next steps in creating their own farms. In Maine and New Hampshire, three groups of farmers have decided to create cooperative farms so that they can share resources, land, and marketing. The Cooperative Development Institute has been working with these farmers to assist them in developing their cooperatives. New Roots Cooperative Farm was formed in 2015 by four Somali Bantu farmers who had been farming at Cultivating Community’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Project in Lisbon, Maine. Now with the help of Maine Farmland Trust and Land for Good, New Roots Cooperative Farm is establishing the first New American-owned cooperative and farm on the north-end of Lewiston, the 2nd largest city in Maine. This 30 acre farm will provide a long-term home for these farmers who will expand their CSA, establish a farmstand and sell to local schools, hospitals and colleges. In addition to growing vegetables, they will start to raise chickens on this former dairy farm.
In New Hampshire, the New American Farmers Cooperative was established with help by the Cooperative Development Institute and the Organization for Immigrant and Refugee Success. These farmers are taking over the incubator farm outside of Manchester, NH and running it cooperatively. The eight farmers in this cooperative come from Somalia and Bhutan, where they farmed traditionally. Now in New Hampshire, they are selling their vegetables through a CSA and farmers market.
These New American farm cooperatives are providing examples of how we can work together to build greater equity in our food system. Immigrant and migrant farmers have faced exploitation, harassment, low-wages, and loss of land. Through forming cooperatives, these farmers are able to build greater mutual support and economic security. To grow an inclusive and equitable food system, it is important for American-born farmers, organizers and consumers to support these New American farmers as they establish farms in the Northeast and around the country.
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