‘We Always Need Food’ Nuestras Raices Official Says in Launching Farmer Training in Holyoke

Jan 28 2017

MassLive, January 26, 2017, by Mike Plaisance

Rafael Herrero was not guaranteeing jobs, but he made an interesting point about food Wednesday in discussing the new program at Nuestras Raices to train people to be farmers.

“Food is really important, is something that we need every day. It’s not going anywhere. Farming is not going anywhere,” Herrero, the nonprofit organization’s director of agriculture and environment, said at a press conference at Neustras Raices’ 329 Main St. offices.

Nuestras Raices (“our roots”) will train 100 people to be farmers over the next two years, 50 each year. The program will be split between the organization’s farm at 24 Jones Ferry Road and classroom instruction at Dean Technical High School at 1045 Main St.

The program is free of charge for applicants, who can be from anywhere as long as they’re 16 or older, thanks to an $800,000 federal grant.

The 100 hours of the program will be taught in English and Spanish from April to October, across one full growing season, planting to harvesting.

The first round of training will begin April 4 and the application deadline is March 15.

Click here to obtain an application or visit nuestras-raices.org

Topics will include organic principles and crop planning, organic production techniques, marketing for small farmers, small business management and record-keeping and regulations.

“They’re going to be really learning the business from this class,” Herrero said. “So once they graduate, they can go to a bank for a loan and have their business plan and say, ‘This is the machinery I’ll need.’ ”

Nuestras Raices is working on the program with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the department that provided the grant.

Farmers who came to mainland America from Puerto Rico founded Nuestras Raices in 1992.

“They wanted to continue farming,” said Hilda Roque, Nuestras Raices executive director.

The farmer training program now for Nuestras Raices is a natural step, she said.

“It’s an amazing program that I know a lot of people will benefit (from),” Roque said.

Nuestras Raices seeks to promote economic, human and community development in Holyoke through projects relating to food, agriculture and the environment.

Mayor Alex B. Morse said the farmer training, providing skills to help people earn a living, underscores that Nuestras Raices is an asset here (see video above).

“We encourage people from all over the city to come and explore what they have to offer here,” Morse said.

Herrero said the five acres that Nuestras Raices farms on Jones Ferry Road includes hot and sweet peppers, lettuce, pumpkins, squash, white beans, pigeon peas, garlic, tomatoes and flowers.

“We always need food,” Herrero said after the press conference. “People eat three times a day, sometimes six times a day. Food is going nowhere.”

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