The Flats Mentor Farm (FMF) is located on a 70-acre river bottom parcel of land in Lancaster, Massachusetts. FMF assists and supports small farmers of diverse ethnic backgrounds with the land, farming infrastructure and marketing assistance needed to promote and sustain successful farming enterprises. FMF promotes economically viable agricultural production that protects the environment through the practice of sustainable farming methods. This program offers resources, hands-on-training and technical assistance on soil fertility, irrigation, pest and weed management and marketing. FMF also provides opportunities for beginning farmers to increase their economic returns, and quality of life.
Immigrant farmers have been farming at this location since 1985. In 2005, after many trials and tribulations, the farmers at the Flats Mentor Farm formally organized becoming FMF. Since then, with the support of Heifer International, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, USDA and many others. The farmers at FMF have evolved from growing enough for their immediate and extended families to selling their produce at farmers’ markets in and around Boston. The number of farmers selling at these markets, and the sales generated, have increased each year from 6 farmers markets in 2005 to over 30 in 2008.
The Hmong came to the U.S. as refugees after the Vietnam War and have been farming in Lancaster since the early 80’s. The Hmong are an ethnic group from Asia that have their own language (Hmong) and culture. The majority of the Hmong in the U.S. are from the uplands of Laos. They assisted the U.S. during the once secret wars in Laos and were persecuted by Laotian and Vietnamese governments after the US left Southeast Asia. Because of their assistance to the U.S. and their persecution, Hmong were allowed to immigrate to the U.S.
For nearly 20 years, the Hmong farmers have been offered access to land, equipment, and water by a commercial farm in Lancaster, Massachusetts. The Moreira’s from Portugal, established dairy farmers in the area, agreed to let an elder Hmong woman use a small plot of land on their farm. Over the years, more and more Hmong farmers have requested land. Currently there are nine commercial Hmong farmers on this land – farming families who are selling produce that they sell in retail and wholesale markets. In addition, there are at least 50 Hmong micro-farmers – farming families who are very serious about growing food for their own families, and some have the hope of more commercial sales in the future.
During the winter of 2005/2006 several people originally from Kenya and Liberia asked Mrs. Moreira if they could have land at her farm to grow crops popular in their cultures to meet the growing market demand for these ethnic crops. These beginning farmers are refugees, some of whom spent several years in refugee camps before coming to the U.S. They come from agrarian backgrounds where the adults in their family structures were farmers.