Juanita Nelson

2012 Local Hero Awardee

Juanita Nelson is one of the Pioneer Valley’s true movers and shakers. At 88 she’s slowed down a bit, but her legacy blazes a clear and brilliant path through the Valley’s drive for local food and its abundant social movements.

Arriving in Deerfield in 1974, Juanita and her late husband Wally adopted a self-reliant lifestyle that eschewed electricity, telephone service, and running water. Living in a four-room house on Quaker-owned land at Woolman Hill, they organically farmed three quarters of an acre. They sold their vegetables at the Greenfield Farmers’ Market, one of the state’s oldest markets, which Wally and Juanita worked with other local farms and orchards to establish.

Juanita and Wally’s lifestyle had deep roots in their conviction to oppose all forms of war and live sustainably. Juanita, who grew up near Cleveland, and Wally, who was raised in Arkansas, were active in the early civil rights movement before joining the war tax resistance movement. They chose to live simply in an effort to disengage from a system they viewed as immoral and unsustainable.

In 2005 Juanita inspired the Greenfield Free Harvest Supper, an annual celebration of local foods and community. The goals of the annual free supper are to support local agriculture, encourage people to eat locally grown food, and raise money for farmers’ market coupons for low income shoppers. In 2011, the supper raised $4,000 to make fresh locally grown food more accessible to customers on a limited income.

Always thinking of more strategies to encourage local eating, in 2007 Juanita envisioned a winter event celebrating locally grown foods available when traditional farmers’ markets are dormant. The seed she planted led in 2008 to Greenfield’s “Winter Fare,” a one-day winter farmers’ market featuring local produce as well as a barter fair and workshops on how to preserve food. The success of “Winter Fare” led to similar one-day events in Northampton and Springfield, with a combined attendance of over 3,000 shoppers, and has inspired ongoing winter farmers’ markets in those communities as well as Greenfield and Amherst.

CISA honors Juanita Nelson for demonstrating the power of living one’s values, exemplifying sustainable living, and working to knit our farms and our communities more closely together.

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