Empowering Just and Equitable Access to Food and Farmland
Cultivating farmer-led and community-rooted agriculture and food systems to actualize the rights of under-resourced peoples.
Providence Farm Collective (PFC) has its roots in the Somali Bantu Community Farm, a three-year pilot project. The pilot explored the challenges and opportunities of addressing fresh food insecurity and farmland inequity. PFC supports under-resourced farmers in Western New York needing access to clean, rural farmland, farming and business education, technical assistance, access to markets and the opportunity to farm for income. PFC also offers youth education and employment programs.
Farmer Advisory Board
Mahamud Mberwa – Somali Bantu Community Organization
Ali Macheremo – Somali Bantu Community Organization
Allison DeHonney – Buffalo Go Green, Urban Fruits and Veggies
Dao Kamara – Liberian Association of Buffalo
Nelson Nagbe – Liberian Association of Buffalo
Etando Omari – Congolese Babondo Buffalo
Dunia Mchindewa- Congolese Babondo Buffalo
Gabriel Khoon – Karenni Community of Our Lady of Hope
Faz Niyigoba – Burundian Community of Our Lady of Hope
Saw Set, Buffalo Myanmar Indigenous Christian Fellowship
Board of Directors
Kristin Heltman-Weiss, President
Eileen O’Brien-Scannell, Vice President
Heather Chudzik, Treasurer
Janet Coletti, Secretary
Providence Farm Collective has its roots in the Somali Bantu Community Farm, a three-year pilot project that explored the challenges and opportunities of addressing food scarcity and land inequity by providing Buffalo’s Somali Bantu refugee community with access to farming in a rural setting.
On June 3, 2017, the Somali Bantu Community Garden broke ground on an eighth-acre parcel in East Aurora, NY, as a collaborative effort of the Somali Bantu Community Organization of WNY, Providence Farm, and the East Aurora Huddle. On May 26, these three groups met to explore the possibility of a rural farm for the Somali Bantu refugees of Buffalo to grow affordable produce to bring back to their West Side community. After securing farmland, efforts were underway to collect donations of tools, plants, and seeds. 45 volunteers of all ages, from the Somali Bantu community, East Aurora, and across the region showed up to plant. That summer, the farm became a place where generations of families, immigrant and native-born Western New Yorkers, urban and rural residents, worked side-by-side toward a common goal.
The incredible growth of this project continued. In April 2018, the farm received a nearly $74,000.00 grant from the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County and the General Mills Foundation. Through this generous grant, the farm purchased a pickup truck, a passenger van, a tractor with attachments, two storage trailers, fencing, irrigation equipment and seeds. These funds helped the farm expand in ways unimaginable a year ago. Fresh farm produce continued to be sold to under-resourced communities at affordable prices; unique African crops were successfully grown and brought back to the west side; cash crops of garlic and flowers helped the project establish a revenue source; and 1,500 pounds of vegetables were given away to people in need.
In October of 2019, the Somali Bantu Community Farm received a $10,000.00 grant from the Newman’s Own Foundation, as part of $2 million in grants awarded to nonprofit organizations that are focused on fresh food access and nutrition education. The Newman’s Own grant funding supports nutrition programs all over the country and internationally, helping nonprofits address various needs such as nutrition education, healthy diets, food rescue, gardening, and access to fresh fruits and vegetables in under-resourced communities. Newman’s Own Foundation has been a long-time supporter of nutrition, and in October 2019, more than $1 million of the funds will be focused on grassroots organizations, like the Somali Bantu Community Farm, that provide impact at a local level.
Large areas of accessible and contaminant-free farmland cannot be found within the city of Buffalo. Although there are over one hundred much needed urban community gardens and farms throughout the city, these plots are not capable of yielding enough fruits and vegetables to provide fresh affordable produce for Buffalo’s under-resourced residents. Furthermore, usable farmland is dwindling in Erie County, and the land that is available is located in rural areas such as East Aurora, thus posing the challenge of accessibility. There is tremendous need among New Americans and African American farmers for accessible farmland and to provide fresh affordable produce to the communities in which they live.
There is a strong desire to farm in the Somali Bantu community, but as the project progressed, typical challenges emerged: finding funding; coordinating schedules; communication. Although transportation was not an issue, as the SBCF has a 15-person passenger van to get volunteers to and from the farm, the cost of maintenance and operation of the vehicle posed a constant problem.
Most challenging, however, were collecting data and implementing communication protocols; keeping volunteers motivated; operating without any paid staff or an executive director; and lastly, working within the constraints of the SBCF being a program of the Somali Bantu Community Organization of WNY. Regarding this last point, the administration of the SBCF, although an important program of the Somali Bantu community, was a burden on the SBCO leadership and the community as a whole. Marginalized communities already shoulder heavy economic burdens, as well as limited, if any, leisure time. Volunteerism by low-income individuals is not always possible simply due to the constraints and affordability of transportation, having to work several jobs to make ends meet, and the lack of affordable childcare.
The idea of a collective of farms, under the umbrella Providence Farm Collective, provides a solution and a way forward. With a dedicated farm manager, executive director, and 2 farmhands, the land will be prepared by PFC; seeds will be provided, as will fencing, hand tools and irrigation. All participating partner organizations and individuals will have the freedom to divide and farm the land as they wish, with the one condition that whatever is grown is shared with or sold affordably to an under-resourced community. Incubator farmers will have the opportunity to farm for a living, with the option of a plot tenancy at Providence upon completion of a three-year farm program. With 37-acres of farmland and woodlands available to share with nonprofit organizations and low-income farmers, Providence Farm Collective has the potential to be a game changer in Western New York in addressing the issues of land inequity and food insecurity and scarcity.