Cultivating New Starts

March/April 2008

By Victoria Abbott Riccardi

“I know how it feels to be an immigrant and not have access to land,” says Maria Moreira, who moved to the U.S. from Portugal’s Azores Islands 40 years ago. “People should have land to grow their own food.” In the early ’80s, Moreira and her husband bought a dairy farm in Lancaster, Massachusetts, and started renting a small plot for $25 to a Hmong farmer from Laos. Each year, the woman renewed the lease, bringing more families eager to work. Now, the couple leases 26 acres to more than 60 immigrant farmers. The growers have become popular at farmers’ markets for selling produce, such as baby bok choy and pea tendrils, native to their homelands.

Moreira’s willingness to “share” her land inspired the formation of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (NESFP). The 10-year-old program, based at Tufts University, helps Massachusetts immigrant farmers get started. Moreira now works with such growers full-time, as a marketing specialist for one of NESFP’s partners, the University of Massachusetts Extension Vegetable Team. “I am committed to making farming sustainable in Massachusetts,” says Moreira. “Food tastes better when it’s local, and it makes me happy to see these farmers use my land to do so well.”

-By Victoria Abbott Riccardi