By Shannon Traphagen
“When you have seeds, you can be self-sufficient, and see those seeds grow into food. When you have your own food, you don’t have to ask other people, the government, or social services for help. You can grow your own roots,” says Oro, one of the refugees and farmers with an incubator farm at Providence Farm Collective (PFC).
PFC is a non-profit organization dedicated to refugee agriculture with roots in the Somali Bantu Community Farm of Western New York. What began as a three-year pilot project addressing food scarcity and land inequity through access to farming in a rural setting, is now approaching its fifth year.
Meeting some of the farmers recently, I felt their passion to connect, build, sustain, find purpose, while having access to the healthy vegetables to which they were accustomed in their native countries. “After a successful first season, other communities began to reach out to ask if they, too, could access farmland. In 2017 we applied for a grant through General Mills and United Way, which enabled us to begin growing African maize, red cowpeas, amaranth, okra, hot peppers,” said Kristin Heltman-Weiss, PFC’s President.
Much more than a grassroots effort, PFC brings community organizations and people together to support each other that have become integral to the operation and success of the farm.
Allison DeHonney, President and Executive Director of Buffalo Go Green, the region’s only Black farmer, has a plot at PFC. “Buffalo Go Green’s urban farm and mobile markets tackle the poor health outcomes and food deserts that happen with segregation. At PFC, Allison grows greens that she can’t grow at her urban farm in Buffalo. She’s just one great example of how our farmland is helping our Buffalo communities, making the farm what it is today,” explained Kristin.
So, what is the farm today? Originally located in East Aurora, the farm now occupies
37 acres on Burton Road in Orchard Park, NY. With Somali Bantu community members fully employed by PFC, the new location reinforces PFC’s commitment to eliminate food scarcity and land inequity through community farming. PFC is also excited to announce its joint capital campaign with the WNY Land Conservancy to raise $2.4 million to purchase the Orchard Park land. Along with building rehabilitation, PFC will establish a sustainability fund for farmers. They have also created Summer STREAM, a STEM-based educational and exploration program for PFC members’ children that takes place in the natural setting of the farm.
“We’ve grown so much. We have partners from the Burundian and Karenni communities. the Karen community of Buffalo Myanmar Indigenous Christian Fellowship Church, the Congolese Babondo Buffalo, the Liberian Association of Buffalo, and so many others. Our goal is to be a driving force in re-envisioning the Western New York food and farm systems, and we are just getting started,” said Kristin.
To learn more about PFC and its history, or to become a partner organization, visit www.providencefarmcollective.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 716-473-9338.