Just in time for Labor Day: River Valley Co-op now selling veggies from new, worker-owned farm

By GRETA JOCHEM, Staff Writer      9/2/2019

NORTHAMPTON — On Labor Day, Hungarian wax peppers, bell peppers and different varieties of eggplant rested in side-by-side bins at River Valley Co-op, near a sign that caught the eye of some observant shoppers: It advertised the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, whose members started a farm this spring.

The four-acre farm, located in Northampton near the border of Hatfield, is a worker-owned cooperative. The Pioneer Valley Workers Center, an organization that advocates for low-wage and immigrant workers, is leasing the land from the City of Northampton and Kestrel Land Trust.

The vegetables on the co-op’s shelves are the second shipment of food from the farm, according to Rose Bookbinder, co-director of the Workers Center. The first batch arrived several weeks ago.

In the late spring, planting began; the farm’s first harvest included zucchini, cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and eggplant, Bookbinder said. Some of the food went to co-op owners’ families, and some of it sold at the store.

“I hope that we can produce a lot more and have a stainable income for us, for the members,” said Lorena Moreno, one of the seven co-owners, who has roots in Mexico and Guatemala. “Also, we’re hoping that we can sell to our own community products that we don’t normally find in the stores — produce that we used to cook with in our countries of origin.” Tomatillo, Moreno said, is one item she can’t always find and hopes to grow herself.

Moreno and Bookbinder both said that in the farm’s first months, the co-owners have other jobs, many of them on other farms. “We’re building up to being able to have enough resources so they can actually work there full time,” Bookbinder said, referring to the Workers Center farm. “Right now, it’s been a very incredible group of volunteers that has helped them.”

“We’re looking forward to becoming more independent and self-sufficient,” said Moreno.

At River Valley Co-op on Monday, some shoppers took note of the new offerings near the front of the store.

“I’m just attracted to anything local,” said Nora Israeloff, filling a brown paper bag with eggplant from the farm. More specifically, she likes the idea of the Workers Center farm. “I totally support that effort,” she said. “If there’s a way for them (the workers) to profit from their own labor, they should.”

“It’s fantastic to see it come to fruition,” said Mark Wamsley, who spent time volunteering on the farm and is the conservation and stewardship manager at Kestrel Land Trust, which owns some of the farmland. Selling at River Valley Co-op makes sense to him. “You can’t get much more local than this,” he said, adding that he hopes people see the Workers Center farm signs and get involved in the project.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

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