Over more than two years, from 2019 through 2021, Equity Trust assisted the Pioneer Valley Workers’ Center (PVWC) and a group of its members in their successful effort to gain secure land access for immigrant farmworkers.
PVWC builds power with low-wage and immigrant workers throughout Western Massachusetts. Many PVWC members faced conditions in their home countries, caused in part by U.S. government policies, that made survival untenable. And many of PVWC’s members are now employed as farmworkers in the U.S., growing organic fruits and vegetables, which are sold at high prices that they themselves cannot afford. Although many farmworkers have experience running businesses and cooperatives in their home countries, as immigrants here they face challenges to starting their own enterprises, including language barriers, access to capital, and access to land.
In 2018, PVWC began working with a small group of its members to plan for an immigrant-led, worker-owned cooperative farm. They were offered access to an almost ten-acre field, which lies on the municipal boundary between the City of Northampton and the Town of Hatfield in Hampshire County, Massachusetts. The portion of the field that is in Northampton is owned by the City, part of the much larger area of the Broad Brook – Fitzgerald Lake Greenway, the portion of the field that is in Hatfield is owned by Kestrel Land Trust. Equity Trust helped to navigate and negotiate a complex set of relationships and agreements to ensure secure tenure for the farmers on this land as they developed their business.
Equity Trust’s role required close collaborative work to create long-term agreements that balance the needs of current and future farmers, the land stewarding organizations, and the wider community. Drafting a lease involves a series of in-depth discussions with the parties about the desired terms. With the farm’s joint ownership, this project was particularly complex, involving a long-term lease to the Kestrel land as well as a separate license to use the City land. Equity Trust worked closely with staff at the PVWC as well as Kestrel Land Trust over the course of more than two years to develop the structure and then draft and implement a long-term lease between PVWC and Kestrel Land Trust.
Simultaneously, we helped develop a sublease between PVWC and Riquezas Del Campo, the majority immigrant-led LLC operating as an independent cooperative farm business that the farmers established with assistance from PVWC’s cooperative development program. Riquezas del Campo has a mission to make healthy food accessible to all. They grow herbs and vegetables, which they sell locally (within 25 miles) to wholesale buyers, and to individual customers at farmers markets, where they feature traditional ingredients from a variety of cultures like cilantro, tomatillos, collard greens, and a wide variety of peppers, and where they accept SNAP/HIP.
This collaborative effort has created the space for La Colmena Community Farm. In addition to Riquezas del Campo, La Colmena Community Farm houses a ½ acre community garden where Worker Committee members can access small plots of land to grow food for their families, as well as gather to cultivate community and share knowledge through a variety of workshops. PVWC has also made portions of the field available to other farmers until Riquezas del Campo grows into full use of the field, including through All Farmers, a local organization supporting refugee and immigrant farmers that Equity Trust is also helping in its parallel efforts to obtain secure land tenure for their farmer members.
This work is part of an important multi-racial food justice movement, planting the seeds of an economy where farmworkers can become farm owners and grow food to feed their communities and meet their own needs. Equity Trust is committed to promoting secure land tenure as key to creating pathways to build equity for farmers who have been historically excluded from ownership opportunities, especially farmers who are Black/Indigenous/People of Color.