World Farmers' Digging Deep

Dorothy Mokua from World Farmers
In November, at NESAWG's "It Takes A Region" conference, I met a passionate young woman, Jessy Gill, who shared her experience addressing racial equity issues as Program Director at World Farmers located in Lancaster, MA.

Jessy explained that at World Farmers, the organization looks to New Americans to learn from them what is important in terms of their needs and the direction for the organization’s day-to-day work.  This approach reminded me of MAP; at MAP, we look to the community and individuals we work with to determine our work and direction.  We believe this is how we will see the greatest impact.

World Farmers provides immigrants and refugees with resources and support to get started developing their farm businesses.  They provide New Americans with access to land and an opportunity to build a business.  She said, “For the first year, the new farmers can work the land, at no cost.  Then after one year, the farmers pay World Farmers a small fee that covers the preparation of the land and minimal maintenance fees."

Flats Mentor Champions 2014
World Farmers has 70 acres of land.  Their website highlights eight of the over 250 farmers in the Flats Mentor Program, among them: Fabiola Nizigiyimana from Burundi who was honored at the White House as a Champion of Change; Sangiwa Eliamani who farmed in several countries, and then recently became one of the founding members of the Flats Mentor Farm African Immigrant Marketing Cooperative; Dorothy Mokua from Kenya, who is also a Nurse Assistant Aid, a Manchester United fan, a devoted mother, and a tomato lover; Yia Ly from Laos; Elizabeth Gitari from Kenya; and James Momanyi from Kenya.

Jessy said, “At World Farmers, staff work with the farmers person-to-person.  The work they do there is not just about mentoring beginning farmers, but also about supporting each farmer to be food sovereign and to provide their families with the food they need to feel the power of home.”  This sentiment and style brought MAP to mind.  This is the same way we work with MAP’s youth employees.

Jessy explained that “The Flats Mentor Program has been in existence for over 30 years in various forms, maintaining the integrity of the program, and never shutting its field to farmers even when funding was scarce to none. The continued existence of the program speaks to the dedication of the staff to go deep in their partnership with individuals, and cultivate an environment of co-learning and trust.”

#MAPYouth on our farm
In one of the farmers stories on the World Farmers webpage, they highlighted that Dorothy is “a Nurse Assistant Aid, Manchester United fan and devoted mother”…  even a tomato lover!  These are the kinds of things we learn about our youth at MAP.  If you look back through our blog and social media posts, you’ll know what I mean.  World Farmers’ work with New Americans really resonates with our approach to youth work at MAP.

With the similarities in how each of our organization’s approach our work, I was excited to learn about World Farmers’, and it got me thinking about how our two organizations might build a partnership.  Some of our youth employees graduate from high school and hope to continue farming, and some envision building a business.  Those youth, similar to the beginning farmers at World Farmers, may be looking for more experience in sustainable agriculture, farm business, marketing, and mentorship support from their peers to be reassured in their commitment to sustainable agriculture.

Jessy Gill, World Farmers
In short, at NESAWG I met in Jessy, a passionate young woman, committed to essential ideals and now the new Program Director at World Farmers, an organization doing important work in the northeast US.  In an e-newsletter article published by her former workplace at the Community Food and Justice Coalition in Oakland, Jessy recognized her own identity and privilege being a “young white middle class” woman.  She mentioned her experience with Paolo Friere’s Popular Education practices, and dropped her involvement in Occupy, a movement which was gaining traction in the Bay area when she arrived on the scene in Oakland in 2011.   In a following conversation, Jessy reiterated all she learned from engaging in that work, and how much more she has to learn.

Jessy and the programming at World Farmers embody an acknowledgment and understanding that people are worth-it, and that everyone has something critical to offer our communities.  Our work, which involves going deep with people, is necessary to redefining the food system, offering economic opportunities, and ensuring healthy food for all.

To learn more about World Farmers, visit www.worldfarmers.org.

This post was written by Rebekah Williams, MAP's Youth Education Director.

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