The Hillside Farmers Co-op has some big goals for Latino farmers in southeastern Minnesota. With the help of a Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grant (SSDPG) from USDA’s Rural Development, Hillside Farmers Co-op has taken another step toward reaching some of those goals.
In Minnesota, Latino workers employed in agriculture in the south-central region of the state added nearly $25 million to the local economy according to a 2004 report by the Minneapolis Foundation. And, as they begin to represent a greater share of the producer population, access to land and capital, as well as language differences, can represent barriers to entry into farming and ownership of farm property.
Hillside Farmers Co-op is a partnership between Latino farmers, including recent immigrants, and establishedfarmers in southeastern Minnesota who, together, are committed to producing sustainable foods and building healthier communities. The co-op pairs immigrant families with established farmers in the area who rent out their land for gardening and poultry production. The SSDPG will help the co-op conduct a feasibility study, develop a business plan, provide training and help pay for other related expenses in developing a coordinated network of local businesses in the free-range poultry industry. The primary objective of the SSDPG program is to provide technical assistance to small, socially-disadvantaged agricultural producers through eligible cooperatives and associations of cooperatives. This is the first SSDPG awarded in Minnesota.
For recent immigrants with a background in agriculture who would prefer not to leave the land, Hillside Farmers Co-op provides the support necessary to realize their dreams of continuing to farm. Hillside Farmers Co-op hopes to tap into the farming expertise that folks bring with them to the United Statesto develop small-scale sustainable farms that are competitive in a regional economy in Minnesota. The project also aims to help Latino families increase income, improve their community, eat healthier and develop valuable leadership skills.
“We did not come into this with the perspective that someone else will do this for us,” said Reginaldo (Regi) Haslett-Marroquin, director of the Rural Enterprise Center (a program of the nonprofit Main Street Project) in Northfield, Minn. Regi provides technical assistance and guidance to co-op members. “We’ve got all these ideas and all of this experience, but we need to turn it into something more competitive.”
So far, Hillside Farmers Co-op “agripreneurs” have sold about 35,000 chickens. As each farmer continues to gain experience and train other agripreneurs, Regi envisions the co-op expanding into grains, vegetables, medicinal herbs, soil composting and other areas.
“I didn’t think this would ever be possible,” said Maria Sosa, Hillside Farmers Co-op Chair. “Now it seems possible with hard work and a little bit of investment.”
Poultry allows for quick turnaround times from chick to market, which means families can earn some income relatively quickly and possibly end up in a position to purchase their own land and develop their own farms. The key is convincing people that it can happen.
“We’ve been successful early and people see that,” Regi said. “We feel our vision will result in an economic model that empowers people and changes communities.”
Chickens raised by co-op farms are free-range and are fed without antibiotics. As much as possible, the birds are fed with grains and grasses raised directly on co-op farms.
“Hillside Farmers Co-op is the ideal recipient for the first SSDPG in Minnesota,” said Colleen Landkamer, USDA Rural Development State Director. “I believe Hillside Farmers Co-op is helping create the next generation of Latino farmers and entrepreneurs that will compete in today’s global economy.”