Nuestras Raices receives national recognition
By Ayo Babatunde
HOLYOKE Dwight and Pine Streets in Holyoke surround a block where houses are mostly boarded up or abandoned. The desolate block is also the home to the community garden named "Ciudad Verde," meaning "Green City." The small hand painted sign on the fence surrounding the garden reads: "Dedicado a todos quienes se dedican a hacer una diferencia en su comunidad" "Dedicated to all those working to make a difference in their community."
Ciudad Verde is just one of the many projects run by Nuestras Raices, a community development, grassroots organization based in Holyoke. Nuestras Raices was recently honored by the Glynwood Center with a Harvest Wave of the Future award.
The national award acknowledges Nuestras Raices' work in social change through sustainable agriculture. The Glynwood Center is based in Cold Spring, New York.
The Center provides training and support to farmers and organizations across the country to encourage regional agriculture and sustainable food systems. According to the President of the Glynwood Center, Judith LaBelle, "The harvest awards were created to highlight some of the most innovative work (in agriculture) that is going on around the country, to celebrate what people are accomplishing, and to inspire others to take action within their communities.
"It is a testament to the growth of the sustainable agriculture movement that Glynwood received over 60 nominations from more than 20 states to consider for our sixth annual Harvest Awards," she said.
"We were very excited and proud to win the award," Daniel Ross, Executive Director of Nuestras Raices, said. "We were nominated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture office in Hadley. They have been working with us for a number of years."
Ross continued, "It is one of the few national awards in our field and it recognizes Nuestras Raices as being one of the more exciting models for promoting sustainable agriculture and healthy communities."
Nuestras Raices was founded in 1992. According to Ross, the organization's first garden was established in a vacant lot where a church had burned down.
"It was right down the street from here, at the corner of Cabot and Clemente Street," he said. "Neighborhood residents began working with a local college student to clean up bricks, rubble and remnants of illegal activities...They made it into a place where they could plants herbs and vegetables...they transformed that vacant lot into a beautiful garden."
Ross said that Nuestras Raices grew from the passion of people who came to the United States as migrant farm workers. "These are people who grew up on the rural farms of Puerto Rico. They had lifetimes of experience in agriculture and wanted to use their knowledge and experience to grow food for their families and improve their community," he explained.
Ross added the community gardening programs are still the heart and soul of Nuestras Raices. However, the word innovation really applies to what has grown out of the gardening program.
"The program has holistically grown based on community members interests. We've done a lot of economic development work with community residents to start up sustainable businesses related to agriculture a bakery, restaurant, farms and catering businesses. Our farmer training program is recognized around the country. We also do work with young people, where young people can learn about gardening and agriculture by working alongside elders," he said. LaBelle acknowledged that Nuestras Raices' work with youth made the Wave of the Future award especially fitting.
"We use the wave of the future award to recognize projects that are innovative and are particularly helping to bring youth into the sustainable agriculture movement," she said. "Nuestras Raices engages young people very fully and directly.
"They have a real focus on helping young people learn how to garden and also provide mentoring for entry level farmers," she added.
Nuestras Raices currently manages eight community gardens, two youth gardens, 15 beginning farm projects, as well as several projects in youth and women's leadership, economic development and environmental research and education. The central office for the organization is located at 329 Main St.
For more information on programs or how to get involved, please visit www.nuestras-raices.org.