Last week, members of the Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT) staff and City Farm apprentices went on an incredible fieldtrip to Nuestras Raices in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Similar to our programs at SCLT, Nuestras Raices promotes urban agriculture and provides access to land, education and resources in its low-income community. Their programs are the prevailing source of community development in Holyoke for a largely Puerto Rican immigrant population.
On the tour, led by Organizing Director Julia Rivera, we visited two of their seven community gardens – CuentoConMigo and La Finquita. At CuentoConMigo, we listened to a medley of tropical-sounding birds and learned that Nuestras Raices community gardens compete annually against each other, for titles like “Cleanest Garden” or “Best Produce Yield.” At La Finquita, we watched a community gardener clean up his plot, and were shown aji ducle peppers used frequently in Puerto Rican meals.
We also toured Nuestras Raice’s main La Finca (The Farm), which hosts numerous educational and community events. The week prior to our visit, La Finca held one of its biggest events, Festival de la Cosecha (Harvest Festival); that day, over two thousand people gathered to eat freshly roasted pigs, listen to music and watch the Paso Finos (“fine step horses”) in all their elegant flair.
While eating a delicious lunch of plantains and empanadas at Mi Plazita, which specializes in traditional Puerto Rican cuisine, SCLT’s staff couldn’t get enough of the pawpaw trees bearing edible fruit in the restaurant’s outdoor seating area. Mi Plazita was started with the help of Nuestras Raices, and is just one example of the many ways the organization supports economic development within its community. The pawpaw trees, as some of our staff speculated, were probably grown by Eric Toensmeier, Farm Project Director, who helped start La Finca and is author of the book, “Perennial Vegetables.”
Our tour ended with visiting Eric’s home, where he and his wife, Marie Claire, showed us their edible backyard and functioning polyculture filled with fruit trees, lotus flowers, silk worms, and, of course, our day’s mascot, the pawpaw tree.
Many thanks to Julia, who provided a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm, and the entire Nuestras Raices staff for helping make function what is a very special community outlet within the city of Holyoke.
To see photos from our trip, check out SCLT’s new flickr account!