Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District, New Hampshire

Grow Nashua families celebrate a successful year growing in the Learning Garden at their Harvest Party.

The purpose of the Hillsborough SWCD’s project was to work at serving the refugee/immigrant farmers and underserved populations in the predominantly developed areas of Hillsborough and Merrimack counties. Two urban agriculture technical assistants were hired to identify and offer opportunities and solutions to the farms and groups in need. In Hillsborough County, the focus was working with Common Earth Farms, which employs refugee farmers who practice familiar farming methods growing ethnic crops. Much of the staff time was spent assisting the farmers in all aspects of their operation. This included offering advice and direction on how to build up their soils through crop rotation, manure management, pest management and irrigation along with helping a hydroponic growing trial. Common Earth Farms has been able to solve many of their issues and improve the quality of land to maintain farm sustainability.

The district also helped a new and developing non-profit organization, Grow Nashua, which was formed to improve food access and nutrition in Nashua. The district staff assisted their urban farming program that, in its first season, brought together 20 low-income families to grow their own vegetables.

A series of training classes were planned and offered to these families to teach farming skills that both promote a healthy active lifestyle and provide an economic benefit. Over 2,000 pounds of their fresh vegetables were harvested, strengthening their community relationships.

As at Common Earth Farms, staff helped the group build their soils through crop rotation, manure and pest management, irrigation and weed management. Plans are in place to continue to assist Grow Nashua in the development of a second Learning Garden and the creation of a production farm in the coming year.

In Merrimack County, focus areas have been in partnering with the Organization for Refugee Success (ORIS) and offering technical assistance to urban farm projects in Concord, Dunbarton and Franklin. At a new refugee farm for women created in Concord, technical assistance was provided in building up and improving their soils, irrigation, solar irrigation, crop guidance, and finding potential sites to sell their products. Assistance was offered at a small community garden space in Concord, a new potential site in New Boston and Fresh Start Farms. It addressed irrigation, soil fertility, soil and plant health, compost and manure, cover crops and crop rotation, pest and disease management, buffers, and tool and equipment opportunities.

Noel Sagna (gray hat) offers garden assistance to refugee farmers at Grow Nashua’s Learning Garden.

Sustainability

The district is able to continue working with Grow Nashua. Staff of both collaborated in applying for a New Hampshire Moose Plate grant to expand and create a production farm for interested refugee families who participated in the Learning Garden, including technical assistance. If successful, the Spring Pond Farm in Greenfield has offered a portion of land free of charge to assist Grow Nashua with their expansion. Additionally, the district secured funding through the New Hampshire Association of Conservation Districts contribution agreement. It will allow Grow Nashua’s development of a second Learning Garden in a different area of downtown Nashua.

Common Earth Farms is currently for sale. The hope is the buyer will want to continue to farm and work with the established refugee group, as it is the only farm in New Hampshire that specializes in growing ethnic crops.

Fresh Start Farms, a part of Organization for Refugee Success (ORIS), is an active participant with USDA NRCS. Improvement plans will continue in 2018 and beyond with assistance provided by NRCS Field office staff and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), which has offered to remain a resource.

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