Pen in the Hand, Hands in the Soil

Farmers Speak Out Against Immigration Policy

By Marykate Smith Despres

We’ve protected some of the most precious farmland,” said Linda Kingsley of Twin Oaks Farm in Hadley. “What are we gonna do to harvest it?” 

Kingsley, who has been farming for over 40 years, was one of about 100 people gathered at Wally Czajkowski’s Plainville Farm in Hadley on April 8. Czajkowski and Michael Docter of Winter Moon Roots invited farmers and other small-business owners to discuss concerns, according to their press release, “about the impact of current immigration policies on their livelihoods.” 

“We have a population we need to protect,” said Kingsley. “It’s only fair to them.”

Eric Stocker, co-owner of local distributor Squash, Inc., opened and moderated the forum, calling out “inhumane” policies and political rhetoric that “ignore the basic facts about who does the work” and leave those workers “living in uncertainty and fear.”

Heads nodded and applause rang out in recognition, again and again, as people spoke of the the web of bureaucratic red tape created by the H2A program, the misclassification of farming as unskilled labor, and the ignored integrity of the local immigrant workforce.

“Nobody in their right mind wakes up and says, ‘I’m going to leave my home,’” said chef and food justice advocate Neftali Duran. “That desperation comes from policies.”

Organizers and many attendees hoped to help change those policies by signing letters to the State House, urging Governor Baker to support the Safe Communities Act, and to the Senate, asking for implementation of immigration reform that ensures: 

  • Current experienced workers can obtain legal work authorization.
  • Their businesses can access new authorized workers when needed in the future.
  • The workers on whom the local economy depends have a pathway to citizenship.
  • State resources are not used to enforce federal immigration policies that harm local businesses and workers.

Postcards were penned and marks were made, but there was still an overwhelming unrest at the meeting’s end. Some left with both more clarity and concern than they had come with. Julie Pottier-Brown, operations manager of the Farm Direct Co-op in Salem, Massachusetts, who has bought food from growers in the Valley for 24 years, was “struck by the level of fear being reported by the immigrant community.” 

“We are an interdependent community,” said Pottier-Brown. “Take away one part, and there will be collapse.”

There are some programs that have consistently offered services and support to the migrant and immigrant farm worker community. Gloria Penagos, a migrant enrollment specialist at Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield (HCS) Head Start, encouraged farmers to spread the word about a migrant/seasonal program specifically designed to meet the needs of farmworkers with young children. The program offers free extended day care, beginning as early as 5am, for children as young as four weeks. She also urged business owners to consider offering transportation to workers in the Springfield area who would normally be commuting to farms around the Valley, but are afraid to leave home in the current political climate.

Migrant and seasonal farmworkers can also find support through the Connecticut River Valley Farmworker Health Program (CRVFHP), which, in conjunction with health centers in Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties, offers free and reduced-cost health care services for both workers and their families. Moreover, CRVFHP makes its services accessible by providing transportation to and from appointments as well as on-farm and in-field intake and primary care services. 

Whether farmworkers from within immigrant and migrant communities will feel safe enough to access these services as often as they did in previous seasons is yet to be seen. 

www.hcsheadstart.org
www.massleague.org/Programs/CRVFarmWorkerHealthProgram/AboutCRVFHP-English.php

The Pig Next Door

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bb_Tylernadhispig_photo_by_B_Stachowski

Words by Barry Estabrook

Several years ago, I bit into a chop that caused me to all but eliminate pork from my diet. It wasn’t that the chop was bad. On the contrary, it was transcendental: rich, juicy, fatty, and sublimely piggy. Compared to the commodity meat at the supermarket, it was like an August heirloom tomato picked from the garden versus a pale, imported January facsimile. I lost my taste for the factory-raised “other white meat.”

I also became determined to find out how meat from pigs could be so different—and how I could secure a dependable supply of great pork for my own table.

A little sleuthing revealed that the pig that produced the chop responsible for my epiphany was an old-fashioned heritage animal bred for flavor, not cookie-cutter leanness. It had spent its life with about 300 fellow hogs on the rolling pastures and woodlots of a small farm about an hour from my Vermont home. It had cavorted, rooted, wallowed in mud baths, snoozed in the summer sun, and dined on a plant-based diet. Its manure made the vegetation richer for future pigs.

As I got deeper into my quest, which by then had become a book project, I spent a memorable day with a pig farmer in Iowa. He raised 150,000 hogs a year that produced meat of the sort that makes up 95 percent of the pork Americans consume. To prevent my bringing in diseases, I had to strip naked, shower, and put on special clothing, as did the owner and everyone else who entered the facility. In one dimly lit barn, more than 1,000 sows spent their entire lives in metal cages too small for them to turn around in or even contain their swelling, pregnant bellies. Piglets were raised indoors in groups of twenty or so in enclosures too small to allow them to take more than a step or two in any direction. The floor was slatted concrete that allowed the feces and urine to dribble into a basement-like pit directly below, where it accumulated, creating an eye-watering stench and emitting gaseous ammonia and hydrogen sulfide that would have killed every pig in the barn were it not for jet-engine-sized ventilation fans that blew the fumes outside, causing the air to reek for miles around. The hogs’ commercial feed included “animal protein” rendered from dead pigs, chicken litter (feces contain protein), and “feather meal” from poultry packing houses. Their feed also contained antibiotics, a practice that breeds resistant bacteria that kill 23,000 Americans a year.

My taste buds were obviously trying to tell me something.

At first, finding pork that met my new standards involved effort. I could order it online from a few suppliers such as Niman Ranch, which entailed shipping costs and more advance planning than I typically give to weeknight dinners. Then one Saturday morning, I noticed that a cheese maker at the farmers’ market I frequent had a cooler full of frozen pork. She told me her animals were free range and fed a vegetarian diet mixed with whey left over from her cheese operation. I became a customer. Around the same time, a few conscientious chefs in the area made deals with farmers to produce hogs, which they would buy whole and break down into an array of tasty, often imaginative dishes.

After listening to the stories of these chefs and farmers and visiting a few swineherds , I settled on a simple principle: By any criterion—environmental, ethical, and gastronomic—factory-raised pork is the worst meat you can eat. By the same token, pork raised by small farmers near home is the very best.

A year or so ago, the long-time meat manager at a nearby supermarket saw that an increasing number of his customers came in looking for the same sort of meat that I sought. He left his job, purchased a USDA-compliant mobile slaughter truck, and opened a meat market a about ten miles down the highway. Demand was so brisk that he soon opened a second store not much farther away up the road. For me today, getting great, local pork requires no extra effort, regardless of which direction I drive.

You may not be as fortunate—yet. But in my travels, I have noticed that pork and other meats are on offer at more and more farmers’ markets. Websites such as Eat Wild (eatwild.com/products/index.html), Food Alliance (foodalliance.org/client-search), and Slow Food USA (www.slowfoodusa.org/local-chapters) have national listings of small, sustainable pork producers that can guide you to well-raised pigs living near you. Get to know them, but be warned, you may never visit the supermarket meat counter again.

Barry Estabrook is the author of Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Guide to Sustainable Meat. You can find his writing at Politics of the Plate.

New Lands Farm: Helping Immigrants Put Down Fresh Roots

New Lands Farm

Helping Immigrants Put Down Fresh Roots

Text and farmer photographs by Leslie Lynn Lucio; recipes photographed by Dominic Perri

Inside the city of West Springfield is a farm that gives opportunity to refugees and immigrants from all over the world. New Lands Farm, a part of Lutheran Social Services of New England, has worked with over 100 refugee and immigrant families since 2008. The farm assists them with finding the tools and resources to support building a life in their new country. In addition to the West Springfield farm there is a second farm in Worcester. Both locations have at least 30 families working on them.

New Lands Farm’s farming families have come from many different countries: When first arriving to the United States, they came through the United Nations Refugee Resettlement Program, which helps protect the rights of refugees. They were assigned to Lutheran Social Services of New England and New Lands Farm.

Many of the farmers have previous agricultural experience prior to coming the United States. New Lands Farm is one place where these farmers can use their agricultural skills, bringing something familiar to them into a new setting.

Farmers come from many countries, including Bhutan, Vietnam, Russia, Central African Republic, and Republic of Congo. The two primary languages currently spoken amongst the farmers are Nepali and Swahili. Despite the language barriers, the farm has been able to grow and work well with consistent hard work. When farmers first start at New Lands Farm, a translator is provided to help them with introductory classes.

Shemariah Blum-Evitts, program manager, says, “Many of the farmers that have gone through training have now been here three to five years. They have picked up some basic English, but we rely a lot on younger generations to help translate for a lot of the farmers. We will often talk with children or with somebody else in the group who knows English.” The farm staffers primarily use English and pictures as their languages. For instance, the staff uses posters with pictures of what needs to be washed and how to bunch vegetables.

New Lands Farm, via a partnership with Enterprise Farm and Gardening the Community, offers a mobile market for the city of Springfield. Three days a week the market brings fresh local food to four different parts of the city, for a total of twelve different locations. Partners for a Healthier Community has helped with the outreach. Shemariah says, “It’s been a great project. We are looking to increase traffic so that the profits are working.”

Recently, the farm started a new market in the Merrick neighborhood of West Springfield—home to many of the farmers. There are grocery stores in the area, but prior to opening the market, fresh local food wasn’t readily available.

The farm also offers a CSA to the public on Tuesdays. The CSA sells crops found in most New England markets, but sometimes offers exotic produce, such as African and Asian eggplants and bitter greens that aren’t commonly found here. Traditional family recipes are also given to CSA members to help introduce them to these new-to-them vegetables.

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Shemariah says, “It’s just so wonderful to see how excited people get. They are just so grateful to have access to land. I think anyone would be, but they have such an appreciation for it, in that it was their family tradition, their livelihood. When we ask them why they like doing this, the number one reason they say is because they are farmers, that’s the blood in them. It makes them feel like who they are, because that’s what they knew before.”

You can learn more about New Lands farm, as well as volunteer opportunities at LSSNE.org/NewLandsFarm.aspx. You can also

keep up with updates and events on their Facebook page.

Leslie Lynn Lucio has enjoyed cooking and baking since she was a small child. In addition to running Beets & Barley Catering, she writes for Hilltown Families with a column: Oak and Acorn. She can be reached at info@beetsandbarley.com