New Hampshire-based Nonprofit Helps Immigrants Find a Fresh Start in Farming
February 26, 2015 | Trish Popovitch
Growing food is a universal need. One nonprofit is leveraging that fact to create a path for immigrants and refugees to transition into a new life in America.
At Fresh Start Farms, a project of the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success (ORIS), immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs participate in the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project (NASAP). The program has been in operation since 2008, and helps new arrivals to not only establish a food source for their family, but to begin a sustainable small business in their adopted community.
“Once resettled in the U.S., many refugees encounter a number of new challenges, including barriers to finding employment, a loss of connection to the land and isolation,” says Charlene Higgins, Market Coordinator for NASAP. “Fresh Start Farms addresses these challenges by providing culturally appropriate income generating opportunities that honor the refugees’ unique skills and experiences. Refugee farmers not only become integrated into their new country and culture, but they become integral to their communities and regional agriculture as a whole.”
Fresh Start Farms was established in 2011 and located in Dunbarton, New Hampshire. Currently, the farm is a collective of 20 immigrant and refugee farmers, with eight of those farmers growing on a commercial scale. ORIS manages the NASAP, providing instruction as well as growing space on its seven-acre site. Most of the immigrants at Fresh Start Farms come from South East Asia, East Africa and the Congo and were farmers in their native countries.
“Our current goal is to ensure the long-term sustainability of the farmers’ businesses,” says Higgins. The staff at Fresh Start Farms provide business and agriculture workshops and offer ESL classes to help immigrants improve their language skills, making them better able to conduct business at farmers’ markets and integrate into the larger society.
All produce is grown in the ground without spray pesticides, using integrated pest management and drip irrigation. The farmers grow both American vegetables such as tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, squash, kale, and beans, as well as favorites from their countries of origin, such as amaranth, bitter gourd, kohlrabi, molokhiya and okra. Greenhouses and hoop houses help the farmers extend their growing season.
The farmers are provided business planning advice through the Fresh Start Farms staff. Many immigrant farmers are able to sell their produce wholesale to area institutions, through local farmers’ markets, at the farm stand and through Fresh Start Farm’s CSA program. One hundred percent of the profit generated on the farm goes into the pockets of its immigrant farmers.
“Food production is a good fit for new Americans because many already have strong agricultural backgrounds, skills, and experiences.” says Higgins. “However, some might lack the resources to fully apply these skills and fulfill their aspirations. Fresh Start Farms aims to fill that gap.”
Being an immigrant or refugee in America is in itself a challenge. Despite the efforts of Fresh Start Farms, there are a few difficulties new farmers must overcome in order to use their facility.
“The Fresh Start Farm growers face their share of challenges,” says Renee Ciulla, ORIS’ Farmer Support Specialist. “The farm is located in Dunbarton, which is 30-40 minutes away from where the farmers live in Manchester. At the farm, they struggle with pests entering the fenceless field such as deer, porcupines, turkeys and rabbits. Saving money for upfront costs such as seeds, transplants, manure, black plastic, etc. has been a challenge from time to time, but they learn more each year about being efficient and saving money.”
Due to the success and popularity of the NASAP program, expansion is necessary for the farm to continue growing new farmers.
“Our current seven-acre site cannot support many new farmers, so we are seeking new land in Concord or the Greater Manchester area to continue the training program with new participants,” says Higgins. “At the same time, we are assisting the current group of eight commercial growers to establish access to long-term land and credit, and to work with them to strategically plan how to successfully transition from the support and services of ORIS into their own self-sustaining cooperative.”