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West Side farmers market to feature produce from Orchard Park collective – Buffalo News

The Providence Farm Collective began with members of the Somali Bantu community in 2017 farming at the Providence Farm in East Aurora, seen above. Last year, the farm collective moved to 37 acres of farmland in Orchard Park, with their ranks now including numerous refugee and immigrant groups.
The Providence Farm Collective provides an opportunity for immigrants and refugees to farm on 37 acres in Orchard Park.
Soon they will be bringing their fresh produce to the West Side.
With the help of a three-year, $477,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, they are planning to open a farmers market on Saturdays from June to October on Grant Street, close to where many of the farmers reside.
“Last season, PFC’s farmers expressed a desire to have a farmers market that would allow each of the Collective’s 16 farms to sell fresh food directly to their community,” said Kristin Heltman-Weiss, Providence Farm Collective’s executive director. “This grant is a step toward the realization of that dream.”
The farmers market will serve refugees from many countries, including Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Liberia. The market is expected to offer traditional crops that include African maize, amaranth, roselle, hot peppers, and African and Asian eggplants.
“The Providence Farm Collective reconnects refugees and immigrant communities with access to farmland as they build their new life in the United States,” said Hamadi Ali, the market’s manager.
“The underserved communities and immigrants who came here in the past 20 years kind of adopted urban ways of eating unhealthy foods,” he said. “Having the farmers market on the West Side will help the people get healthy and fresh produce.”
Ali, a member of the Somali Bantu community, spent a decade at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya before emigrating to Buffalo, where he earned a master’s degree in economics from the University at Buffalo.
Ali said the grant will enable the Providence Farm Collective to expand relationships with wholesalers, partner nonprofits and local food pantries.
“The result will be a source of income for PFC’s farmers and improved access to healthy, culturally relevant and affordable foods for community members facing food insecurity,” he said.
The farm collective began as a project of the Somali Bantu community in 2017 at the Providence Farm, a horse farm in East Aurora owned by Dr. Christopher Kerr.
The move to Orchard Park came in April 2020 and now includes farmers from Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, Burma and Liberia.
There will be 23 small farms this year, up from 16 in 2021. The majority are farm incubators that offer a 1/4-acre fenced, fertilized and plowed farmland, access to an array of hand tools, seeds and agricultural and marketing training.
There is also a demonstration farm plot for training purposes, plots for community and nonprofit organizations and a summer youth employment program.
In 2020, 182 farmers harvested 23,000 pounds of fresh produce using 27 varieties of crops, and 90 immigrant and refugee students participated in summer youth programs, according to the farm collective.
In their first season at the Orchard Park location in 2021, they grew nearly four times the amount of food – 90,000 pounds of produce. 
Heltman-Weiss said the number of farmers this year is expected to be significantly higher.
With the demand for farmland, the Providence Farm Collective is working with the Western New York Land Conservancy to purchase the property.
The two organizations, together, have embarked on a $2.3 million fundraising campaign through the end of 2022.
The farmland costs $507,000, with other costs including a fund set up for longtime stewardship of the property, farmer-directed funds, a conservation easement to protect the land in perpetuity and facility needs such as a barn and pavilion.
The Land Conservancy’s mission is to protect forests, farmland and wetlands, and over its 31 years has applied conservation easements to 40 properties totaling 3,330 acres.
The two organizations will hold a live virtual event at 7 p.m. om March 31. To view, go to wnylc.org/events.
“When you go to this farm, it’s one of the most astounding things I’ve ever seen,” said Jajean Burney-Rose, the Land Conservancy’s deputy director. “It’s this awesome community of people from all over the world growing things on a fertile farm that has some of the best soils in Western New York.
“Our role in all of this is to protect the farm as farmland, and help this organization and the farmers in a way that’s permanent,” he said.
Mark Sommer covers preservation, development, the waterfront, culture and more. He’s also a former arts editor at The News. 
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Mark Sommer covers preservation, development, culture, the waterfront and more. He’s also a former arts editor at The News.
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The farm collective wants to purchase the farm it leases, add needed facilities, and preserve and sustain it into the future.

The WNY Land Conservancy wants to save the College Lodge Forest’s 168 acres. The property has been put up for sale by the Fredonia Faculty Student Association.
The Providence Farm Collective began with members of the Somali Bantu community in 2017 farming at the Providence Farm in East Aurora, seen above. Last year, the farm collective moved to 37 acres of farmland in Orchard Park, with their ranks now including numerous refugee and immigrant groups.
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