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Celebrating 30 Years of Puerto Rican “Agri-Culture” in Western MA

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Tuesday, October 4, 2022   

The Holyoke area is home to many Puerto Rican families who say they will do what they can to help people there as they recover from the latest hurricane.

When they arrived in Holyoke some 30 years ago, migrants longed for a chance to harvest the foods integral to their island's culture. Today, the farm they started, Nuestras Raíces or "Our Roots," is a leader in community-based farming, feeding and providing growing opportunities for low-income communities in western Massachusetts.

Sue Colon, the farm's development coordinator, said her organization has become so much more than a place for neighbors to grow food.

"When they come to the farm for the festivals, that's exactly what they say: They feel like they're back home," Colon observed. "The farm represents that to them."

Along with tomatoes, onions and squash, farmers grow traditional crops like aji dulce, a sweet pepper, or recao, a long-leaf coriander and staple of Puerto Rican cuisine. Colon pointed out the organization is developing a plan to increase its presence back in Puerto Rico and with farmers there, following the devastation from Hurricane Ian.

Funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has helped to create pop-up markets in the area, where farmers can sell their produce at affordable prices. The mobile markets also deliver to Latino families who might live in so-called food deserts, where fresh produce can be tough to find.

Colon noted the mobile units often visit senior and low-income housing, bringing everything families need to make sofritos, a blend of produce and spices used as a base for many Puerto Rican dishes.

"They're really happy because we basically give them a kit, like a sofrito kit, because we give them all the things they need to make their sofrito, so they like making it from scratch," Colon explained.

She added the farm also helps to create jobs, with more than 40 Latino entrepreneurs starting their own businesses through the use of incubator kitchens.

References:  
Nuestras Raices 2022

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