September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document


Article Order:5

Title:A new opportunity in a new city

Author:Georgine Yorgey

Publication:The Link

Original Language:English



Blurb:Sonnia Lopez owned a farm in her native Ecuador. After immigrating to New York City, Lopez dreamed of continuing her life as a farmera dream she never imagined would come true. That was until Lopez found the New Farmer Development Project, which helps immigrants who were farmers in their home countries get a start here.


Body:In the biggest city in the United States, some new immigrants are pursuing a goal that seems at odds with the cement and brick realities of New York: theyre going to become farmers. They are part of the New Farmer Development Project, which helps immigrants who were farmers in their home country get a start here.

One of those new farmers lives in Ozone Park, Queens, not far from East New York. Sonnia Lopez moved here from Ecuador two years ago with her sons Israel, David, and Daniel, who are now ages 17, 15, and 10. Sonnia owned a farm in Ecuador, but was forced to move here because of the political and economic situation there. She planned to start a farm in New York, but when she got here, found that it was much harder than she thought it would be. You come here with many expectations, but its very difficult, especially because of the language. You think that you will make a lot of money, but its difficult to find work, she explained in Spanish. She also said that buying land is very expensive in the United States.

When she first arrived in the United States, she lived with her brother, working at fast food restaurants and in retail stores to make ends meet. She thought she would never be able to realize her dream of having a farm here. Then last year, she read about the New Farmer Development Project, and realized that the project was exactly what she was looking for.

The New Farmer Development Project (NFDP) is jointly coordinated by Greenmarket and Cornell Cooperative Extension/NYC Programs. Greenmarket is a non-profit program of the Council on the Environment of New York City that helps farms in the state stay viable. Farmers markets have become very popular in New York in recent years because people appreciate the freshness and high quality of local farm products. Despite this, many small farms in upstate New York are struggling to stay in business, as farmers age and dont have anyone to take over their farms. Farms have begun to disappear because farmers who are unable to make a living give in and sell their land to developers who build houses on the land.

Greenmarket helps address these problems by organizing farmers markets in New York City, giving farmers a place to sell their produce directly to the consumer. This helps farmers make more money because they dont have to pay a middle person to sell their products for them. Many immigrants in New York City have experience with farming, and would like to farm here because of the many benefits that farming offers. Those that farm have the ability to spend more time with their families and have the opportunity to be around nature. The New Farmer Development Project works to link these two groups so that a group of younger farmers can continue to care for the land and protect the open space for future generations.

Sonnia is drawn to farming because of the lifestyle it offers. She knows shell never get rich farming, she says, but loves it because people need to eat and she is connected to the very basis of life. Being with my family is the most important reason to farm. If you work at another job, you have to stay apart from your family and you cant be together. I also want to live in a place thats quieter than New York City, a place that has less conflict. I like the country air. Here, its difficult to be cramped up in an apartment.

Since she found the New Farmer Development Project, Sonnia has been busy. Shes still working and taking care of her kids, but shes also going to farming classes, learning English, working a piece of land in New Jersey, and selling at the Jackson Heights Greenmarket. She says that she has learned a lot. In Ecuador, she was more involved with the administration of the farm. Here, she has to do all the work of farming, too. But shes not alone. Her two older sons help her farm on the land, and nearby farmers give her support, helping her with maintaining the farm and giving her ideas about how to move forward. Her youngest son, whos not yet big enough to help with the physical work on the farm, has also found a way to be part of the family business. He proudly helps his mother at her stand at the Greenmarket in Jackson Heights, translating for Sonnia and helping her sell. Pat Malloy, the farmer who has the stand next Sonnia, has also been a great help, encouraging her and giving her seedlings and other supplies.

Sonnias crops of tomatoes, peppers, flowers, and melons were a big hit at the market this year, and shes looking forward to next year. Shes eager to start with more experience, and she hopes to expand her farm. Selling at the market has been important, Sonnia says, because through working in the market I could see that it is possible to succeed, that people will buy what I grow. Shes still renting her farmland, and commuting from Ozone Park to New Jersey, but shes optimistic about the future and believes she will have her own farm soon. She has these words for other immigrants who might be interested in farming: Its hard work, but there is a way. I was given an opportunity, and there are many people to help me succeed.

Those who want to know more about the New Farmer Development Project can call Rachel Dannefer, project director, or Maria Alvarez, project coordinator, at (212) 477-3220, or email Maria at [private].

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