Helping new Americans become food entrepreneurs
Many new Americans arrive in the U.S. with farming experience and skills, but they find it difficult and expensive to navigate opportunities to work and participate in the food system. World Farmers, which operates the 70-acre Flats Mentor Farm in Lancaster, is changing that for new Americans in Massachusetts.
In 1984, World Farmers began offering Hmong farmers land on which to farm. Within ten years, 190 family farmers were growing food, while learning about the local climate and culture. Currently, the organization supports more than 250 farmers from 20 countries, including many from east African countries. Forty farmers have scaled up from producing food for their families to selling vegetables at farmers markets, while others sell to retail outlets in Greater Boston and Worcester, or aggregate their goods for wholesale distribution by World Farmers. Some smaller producers have jointly created a CSA with distribution sites in Lancaster and Boston.
Two years ago, one of the farmers began using the Worcester Regional Food Hub commercial kitchen to make fresh Hmong Veggie Rolls to sell at local farmers’ markets. While exploring ways to scale up, he found it difficult to find time to travel to Worcester to produce the rolls during the harvest season. In efforts to alleviate barriers such as these, World Farmers received funding through the Massachusetts Food Ventures Program to renovate the Lancaster Community Center Kitchen. When completed in the summer of 2018, the space will serve the community as well as the immigrant and refugee farmers at Flats Mentor Farm. The kitchen’s equipment will enable the farmers to efficiently produce value-added products such as maize meal and spring rolls, and allow them to receive higher profits for the produce they grow.
World Farmers also provides other types of support for the new American farmers they work with, such as helping them enroll in SNAP and HIP. And, when farmers want to make the transition to owning their own farms, World Farmers helps to identify and match them with appropriate farmland.