Produce For The People

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Above photo: Riquezas del Campo co-op farm. Pioneer Valley Workers Center.

Hatfield, MA – For many farmers, the 2020 season has posed numerous difficulties: an ongoing drought, early frost and a need for extra public health precautions amid the pandemic, to name a few. But in a year marked by challenges, Riquezas del Campo farm, now in its second season, is growing.

The immigrant-led, worker-owned cooperative farm got started later in the growing season when it started in 2019 and had just one customer, said Lorena Moreno, a founding member of the farm. This year, the farm, situated on the Northampton-Hatfiled line, has multiplied its sales around four times over, is attracting new members and selling to more vendors.

“We had a very good harvest this year,” Moreno said, despite an earlier than usual frost killing some crops. But farmworkers continue to pick whatever is left, she said, including cilantro and some greens.

Earlier in the season, the farmers also harvested crops including a variety of peppers, such as jalapeños and ghost peppers; eggplant; tomatillos; kale; husk cherries; and zucchini.

About two weeks ago, the farm began selling its produce at the Tuesday Farmers Market in Northampton, where they are licensed by the state’s Healthy Incentives Program. Under this licensing, people using SNAP benefits (food stamps) receive a matching incentive to their SNAP accounts for each dollar spent at eligible vendors. In an earlier success, the farm began selling at River Valley Co-op in summer 2019, where they continue to sell produce.

The Pioneer Valley Workers Center leased the land from the City of Northampton and Kestrel Land Trust in May 2019. Rose Bookbinder, a co-director at the Workers Center, praised the collaboration between the organization and the farm.

“It’s been an amazing project and collaboration to get to be a part of,” Bookbinder said. “Part of the vision of the Workers Center has always been to not only develop our political power, but also economical power through creating democratic workspaces based off of solidarity.”

The ability to provide quality, organically grown produce to those in the area who may have not been able to afford it otherwise is essential to the farm’s mission, Moreno said. In addition to working with the SNAP program, many goods were redistributed to mutual funds, she said.

“We’re so happy to be able to help the people who need it the most,” Moreno said. “That’s our main goal — to get our products to people who cannot afford to go to the organic store.”

Founding members also wanted to give farmers more control over their labor, she added.

“We have a lot of farmers who feel mistreated in their place of work because they don’t have access to drinking water, sometimes they don’t have access to bathrooms close by,” Moreno said, in addition to long hours. “There was the dream of the first founders of the farm to have a place where they can decide what they want to plant, how they want to work it.”

Providing fresh, organically grown food is also a way for the farmworkers to educate their communities and “preserve our cuisine from our places of origin,” Moreno said, “and try to cook those meals that we cook back in our places and teach our children our heritage.”

Eventually, members hope to establish a garden entirely dedicated to providing for children and their education.

“That’s my dream of growing a healthy community, healthy children,” Moreno said.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.