Project: Huertas

Understanding the Food Security of Migrant Farmworkers in Vermont

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The Brown County Connecting for Success- Hmong Food Systems Project

By: Kristen Fedie

The Brown County Connecting for Success- Hmong Food Systems Project is one that recently developed out of a multi-year survey project conducted by Karen Early and in association with the University of Wisconsin Extension program.  The project studied household food security throughout Brown County, Wisconsin, discovering that due to such factors as economic instability and a lack of access to transportation the Hmong population was disproportionately affected by food insecurity.  According to statistics presented by Karen Early, 96% of the Hmong population in Brown County identified as having low or very low food security (18).

This study uncovered drastic inequalities in food access.  Additionally, the study concluded that the inability to meet the most basic of food needs was extremely prevalent among the Hmong population in Brown County.  According to Early, the program emerged from the desire “to provide a forum for members and community partners to take action toward improved food security and relieve hunger” (Early 7).  As a result, UW Extension applied for and received a “3-year USDA Community Food Systems grant to expand and enhance elements of the local Hmong food system” (Rhodes and Joseph 5).  Through the collaboration between UW Extension, community partnerships, and the USDA grant, the Hmong Food Systems Project was able to emerge, serving as a viable way in which to provide the food insecure community with both nutritious and well-balanced diets.

The Hmong Food Systems Project works to provide the population with not only access to healthy food options but also education surrounding farming and small-scale marketing.  Over 200 gardeners, 80% of which are Hmong participate in the county’s community gardening program.  Additionally, according to Rhodes and Joseph, “A number of projects are underway with some already completed; a shared commercial kitchen and produce cold storage, pastured poultry demonstration, expanded community garden plots, as well as integrated pest management, education on pesticide usage, produce marketing, food preservation, and food service sanitation, farmers’ market and roadside stand start-ups, and a composting video dubbed in Hmong” (5).  The diversity of projects offered has proven to be central to the success of the Hmong Food Systems Project.

Through UW Extension, the Hmong Food Systems Project is also seeking to provide assistance to Hmong landowners.  The project is working to educate its members on how to fully utilize their land as well as how to diversify their crops and farming operations; such changes become particularly essential when farmers are seeking to not only healthily supplement their diets but also improve their income.  Additionally, “there is also a continuing effort to connect local landowners and Hmong families without land with opportunities to rent, lease or purchase of land for start-up farming operations” (Rhodes and Joseph 6).  Yet another successful venture created through the programs is the formation of a Hmong Farmers Co-op that is currently pursuing funding.

The Hmong Food Systems Project has begun to expand, increasing its involvement with not only food insecure but also food secure populations throughout the Wisconsin county, bringing the community together to address food security.  The Hispanic population of Brown Country, both US citizens and recent immigrants, also struggles with low and very low food security.  As such, the Hmong Food Systems Project is eager to provide assistance to the county’s Hispanic population.  The Hmong Food Systems Project demonstrates the various positive changes a small-scale, university extension program can incite.  The project has been successful in not only providing food insecure populations with access to healthy food options but also providing education and opportunity.  Although the project has been successful, its future relies heavily on both continued funding and community support.


Early, Karen. Brown County 2009 Household Food Security Report. 30 September 2010. Web. 14 March 2013. <>

Rhodes, Marla; Joseph, Hugh. January 2004. Immigrant Farming Programs and Resources: A Guide to Projects, People, Places, Publications, and Other Information on Immigrant Farming Activities Across the United States. January 2004. Web. 14 March 2013. <>

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ALBA- Agricultural and Land-Based Training Association

By: Dan Rosen

ALBA, The Agricultural and Land-Based Training Association, is a non-profit organization located in Monterey County, California.  Although not a gardening program per-say, ALBA provides amazing opportunities for farm-workers and limited-resource aspiring farmers to establish economic and food security in Monterey County.  The organization operates two organic farms, the Rural Development Center (RDC) and the Farm Training and Research Center.  Both farms provide educational opportunities for limited-resource farm workers to pursue further advancement within the agricultural industry by providing them with access to information, operating capital, and land.

Although they do not target a specific demographic, the overwhelming majority of ALBA’s beneficiaries are recent Latino immigrants who previously worked as migrant farm workers, thus similar to the population demographic that the Huertas project addresses in Vermont.  ALBA’s mission is to “accommodate economic viability, social equity, and ecological land management among limited-resource and aspiring farmers.”  Furthermore, “ALBA aims to contribute to a more just and sustainable food system” through implementing programs that treat its farmers fairly and also “promote the enhancement of biological diversity and protection of natural resources.”  Their overall goal is to create greater economic opportunities for small farms while promoting ecological land management and healthy foods.

ALBA was officially incorporated in 2001, but the organization was formed through a history of progressions that dates back further.  In 1972, Geraldine Mary Bardin sold her inherited family farm to Central Coast Counties Cooperative Development Center, an initiative born out of Johnson’s War on Poverty.  This program sought to help heavily marginalized, small-scale Latino farmers work together to form cooperatives and achieve a competitive advantage in the market place.  Unfortunately, the program ended during the Reagan Administration due to economic opportunity cuts.  However, in 1985, the Rural Development Center, based out of Washington D.C. (which now has an office in Burlington, VT!) founded the Association for Community-Based Education (ACBE) on the same farm.  This new program initiated the idea of a “farmworker to farmer” program,” to encourage and support farmworkers to advance and gain access to farm management and farm ownership positions.

In 2001, RDC’s local advisory board initiated discussions to transform this program into a locally owned non-profit in Monterey County.  Thus, ALBA was officially incorporated through adapting previous RDC strategies, as well as enhancing and expanding upon these strategies.  Since 2001, ALBA has improved land-lease agreements, expanded the educational curriculum, and branded its products as an official licensed distributor.  ALBA Organics distributes goods to local retailers large wholesalers, including Whole Foods and Trader Joes, as well as institutions, including Stanford University, UC Santa Cruz, and Google.  In 2012, ALBA Organics’ fiscal sales were $4.5 million.

ALBA offers a number of programs to provide services for small-scale, socially disadvantaged, and usually immigrant farmers.  For instance, Programa Educativo para Agricultores (PEPA), or the Farmer Education Program, “trains individuals in farm management and organic crop production practices with an emphasis on business success.”  This course, offered in both Spanish and English, consists of both lectures and field experiences and attracts a diverse range of participants, including farm workers and agricultural industry employees.  The course teaches its participants about pests, planting, beneficial insects, and cover crops.  ALBA adapts a hands-on approach and invites guest speakers, including local farmers and local farmers and university biologists, and takes field trips to irrigation supply stores, compost suppliers, farms, and farmers markets. The admissions process is competitive and cost for the course is on a sliding scale.  Credit is available through Harnell Community College for an added fee, with financial aid for full-time students available through a FAFSA application.

After passing PEPA, participants have the option of taking part in the Farm Business Incubators program.  This is a six-month long, intensive apprenticeship program for PEPA graduates.   ALBA offers participants a significantly subsidized land-lease that decreases steadily between 1 and 6 years, with the expectation that participants are becoming more financially stable every year.

Another successful initiative of ALBA is the Market Match program.  This program organizes farmers’ market incentive programs for families who rely on California’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (EBT benefits) through CalFresh.  When CalFresh enrolled families choose to spend 10 dollars at eligible farmers markets, they receive a 5 dollar credit toward an additional produce purchase.  ALBA both recruits farmers to sign up for this program and offers it as a purchase option for ALBA Organics stands at farmers markets.

Overall, ALBA has been quite successful.  According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture, between 1997 and 2002, the number of Latino farmers in Monterey County has increased 70%, and 264 Latino-owned farms have been established.  ALBA has specifically started 80 small farm businesses, and this growth occurred in spite of an overall decrease in the number of farms in the county within the same period.  And as a more indirect result, more Latinos are consuming organic in California and viewing the movement as less anglo-elitist.

According to its program manager, Nathan Harleroad, “A lot of farmworkers are working tirelessly to invest in their children’s futures, but ALBA gives them the opportunity to improve their lives within their lifetime”.  Furthermore, aside from the obvious financial benefits of rising up the occupational ladder, participants appreciate a number of other opportunities ALBA allots them. For instance, they appreciate that they no longer engage in the monotonous work of large scale farms; they appreciate that they are no longer are exposed to dangerous, cancer causing chemicals; and they appreciate the community, family friendly environment that the ALBA community creates.


Wozniacka, Gosia. “”Latinos Start Organic Farms with Help of New Programs””Huffington Post. N.p., Dec.-Jan. 2012. Web. 04 Mar. 2013.

Welcome to ALBA (Agriculture & Land-Based Training Association). RedShift Internet Services, Web. 4 Mar. 2013. <;.



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Food Security Awareness Among Migrant Farm Workers

By: Hannah Ross

In the United States, some of the most food insecure individuals are migrant farm workers and their families. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, food security for a household means “access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” Food security includes at a minimum “the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods” as well as the “assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways” (USDA). Moreover, food security status is measured in four ranges: high food security, marginal food security, low food security, and very low food security (USDA). While migrant farm workers play a critical role in the United States’ agricultural sector by picking fruits and vegetables, many do not have the resources to be food secure. In a study looking at food security among agricultural workers in California’s Salinas Valley, only 34% of farmworkers participating in the study were food secure, leaving 66% of respondents to be food insecure. Of those participants, 53% had low food security and 13% had very low food security (Eastman, Kresge 2010: 12). The significance of these statistics is that they represent migrant farm worker populations across the United States, from the Carolinas to the Mexican border to Pennsylvania. Likewise, there are fundamental components that lead to food insecurity.

Chief factors attributing to food insecurity among this population are below poverty income levels and socioeconomic status. Farm workers typically earn minimum wage but that salary is not necessarily guaranteed if they are not legal citizens; thus, bosses often take advantage of their workers’ legal status and pay the bare minimum. In these situations, undocumented workers may be afraid to speak up and assert themselves due to fear of deportation. Furthermore, “many of these workers send remittance back to help their families in their home country, leaving them with even less money for their own health and nutrition needs” (Essa 2001: 74). Therefore, at the end of the day, migrant farm workers have very limited financial resources.

Cultural barriers as well, prove to be an influential predictor of food insecurity. In a study to assess nutrition, health, and food security among Latino farm/industry workers in Virginia, one participant stated, “We don’t know how to ask for what we need. We move so much from city to city. By the time we learn what is in the markets and where it is found, we move again and have to learn the new things in the new places. One of the biggest barriers is being new in a place and not being able to find our food” (Essa 2001: 59). As expressed by this individual, migrant farm workers who are new to the United States and unfamiliar to the foods in the country, do not necessarily know what to purchase and struggle even more because they do not have access to culturally relevant foods from home.

Another substantial factor contributing to food insecurity is the lack of physical access to grocery stores. Migrant farm workers who are not legal residents, and thus do not have a driver’s license, experience great difficulty in going food shopping. They often have to rely upon others to shop for them, and as a result, they might only receive groceries every few weeks. Additionally, most agricultural work takes place in rural areas, making food shopping inconvenient and time consuming for migrant workers. Therefore, the work Huertas is doing is especially significant because of Vermont’s rural landscape. Because of food insecurity, migrant farmers and their respective families are at great risk for and experience many nutrition-related health problems and concerns. In the coming weeks, I will discuss further the nutrition and health related implications of food insecurity which migrant farm workers confront.


Kresge, Lisa, and Chelsea Eastman. Increasing Food Security Among Agricultural Workers in California’s Salinas Valley. Rep. California Institute for Rural Studies, June 2010.

Essa, Jumanah S. Nutrition, Health, and Food Security Practices, Concerns, and Perceived Barriers of Latino Farm/industry Workers in Virginia. Thesis. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2001.

“Food Security in the U.S.” United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. <;.

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Understanding the Cuisine of Mexican Migrant Farmworkers

By: Sam Rothberg

We all get where we’re going because of history.  It precedes us and tends to shape our world.  More specifically, we eat because of how the people before us ate, what they craved, what they paid large amounts of money, or gold, for. We eat the way we do because of slave labor, because of newly opened shipping routes thanks to world discoverers, because of greedy royalty in Europe, because of how the people before us ate and what they would do to accomplish that not-so-simple task of survival.

I’m searching for a better idea of what migrant workers in Vermont originally ate before they traveled to the U.S. in hopes of a better life for their families. Of course, not all the migrant workers in Vermont come from the same country, and although most of them are from Mexico, the culture and foodways of the different states and regions of Mexico range greatly. Through this blog, I hope to better understand the original cuisine and foodways of the migrant workers in Vermont.  Although they do come from various places, the Huertas program director, Naomi, mentioned that more than 90% are from Mexico while others are from places geographically close to Mexico like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.   Naomi also mentioned that a majority of the Mexican migrant workers are from the southern state of Chiapas.

Nevertheless, it is important to understand the foodways of this population because they are key players in our economy yet they face real threats of food insecurity and hunger as well as obesity-related diseases such as diabetes.  In order to better understand their current foodways, I look to first understand how their original food system, more specifically that of Mexico, became what it is today.

There are two diets that largely affect the Mexican diet today: that of the Spaniards and that of the indigenous before the Spaniards arrived. Both of those diets have fused and transformed to make a rich diet today.  Among disease and war, the Spaniards brought important food crops like wheat, rice, animal protein such as pig, sugarcane and important vegetable crops like onions, garlic, carrots, lentils, lemons, limes and much more.

Of course, the two independent diets began to emerge into comida novohispana, which created a cuisine based on the blending of Old World and New World foods. One example being the mole poblano—a dish containing onions, ga

rlic, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, chicken or turkey served with tortillas.  What was most important, though, was that the Europeans provided fats to the indigenous diet, which completely transformed the cuisine. The technique of frying food, and including cheese in dishes became a mainstay in the food culture, which is why wonderfully engorging dishes like gorditas, quesadillas, tortas and tacos are still so popular today.  Beverages evolved as well. Pulque, emerged as one of the most common alcoholic beverage produced from the fermented juice of a maguey plant. And, as rice was introduced as a compliment to maize, the popular drink of rice, flour, sugar, cinnamon and ice called horchata emerged.

Despite all of the culinary introductions the Europeans made to Mexico, what was and still remains the core of Mexican diet is the holy grail of corn, beans, and chiles complimented by the mother of all Mexican foods: the tortilla.  The chile is the “most culturally meaningful of the three” according to Joy Adapon in her book, “Culinary Art and Anthropology”(Adapon, 7).  Of course, the traditional planting of the Milpa—corn, beans and squash together has highly influenced the Mexican diet producing popular dishes such as sopa de flor de calabaza which is made from all components of the Milpa including a fungus called huitelachoche that grows on the Maize, or corn, plant. The soup also contains ingredients important to Mexican cuisine such as squash blossoms, epazote (a popular herb), poblano chiles and nopales, or cactus.

By understanding how the cuisine has been ever-evolving into a very distinct flavor, we can better understand the foods which migrant workers in Vermont require for a healthy diet.  This is extremely important not only for maintaining a happy and sustainable life in such a wobbly and transitional world, but for supporting the food security of our migrant farm workers that provide so much to all of us here in Vermont.


Super, J. Vargas, L. The Cambridge World History of Food. Retrieved from

Adapon, J. (2008). Culinary Art and Anthropology. New York, NY: Berg Publishers.



Huerto de la Familia

By: Kristen Fedie

Huerto de la Familia (“The Family Garden”) is a non-profit organization in Eugene, Oregon that not only seeks to provide Latino families with access to organic gardens but also provides opportunities to start small food or farm businesses.  According to the organization, “offering people the opportunity and instruction to grow their own food is the most effective way to combat hunger and for people to put more nutritious food on the table” (huertodelafamilia.rog).  It is from this sentiment that the organization emerged.

Huerto de la Familia began in 1999 as a small volunteer community garden project aimed at supporting the region’s low-income Latino immigrant population.  Many immigrants are attracted to the region “for employment opportunities and to join family who came to the area previously” and as such the number of Latino immigrants in Eugene has grown significantly (  Most of the Latino immigrants in Eugene work in agriculture (often seasonally), forestry, construction, and food service, jobs traditionally granted low wages.  As a result, food insecurity was high within the population, an issue Huerto de la Familia sought to address.

At its inception, the Huerto de la Familia, headed by Sarah Cantril, “worked with six Latina women to develop a 300-square foot garden” in which organic and culturally relevant foods could be grown (Carruth).  Since 1999, Huerto de la Familia has been extremely successful, providing assistance to over 400 parents and children through supplying land, plants, seeds, and organic gardening materials.  The program currently operates three community gardens and a farm in Eugene, supporting over 50 families.

The main mission of Huerto de la Familia, a program rooted in a commitment to social equity, food justice, and sustainable agriculture, began as “to strive and alleviate poverty and hunger among low-income Latino families” (  However, due to the program’s success, this mission has expanded, emphasizing entrepreneurship and the importance of self-sufficiency.

In 2004, Huerto de la Familia extended its services to include support programs, organic gardening education, and workshops related to both health and food preservation; thus, enabling Latinos to start micro-enterprises and small businesses as a way in which to supplement low wages.  Additionally, in 2010, The Small Farmers’ Project, a farm-based business created through a partnership between Huerto de la Familia and Heifer International, provided low-income Latino famers with the opportunity to participate in a cooperative.  The Small Farmers’ Project graduated from the organization in 2011 and is now an independent business.

Huerto de la Familia “blends a commitment to social justice with an interest in entrepreneurship and the business of farming” and “while this melding of entrepreneurship and cooperative agriculture may be unfamiliar––and even unsettling––to some in the nonprofit sector, the Small Farmers Project has proven to be resourceful in defining their mission and obtaining seed money” (Carruth).  Huerto de la Familia has been recognized as not only valuable and innovative but also a national leader among the urban agricultural movement; the program received the Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Award in 2009 as well as the Heifer International Golden Program Award in 2011.  Both the numerous successes of Huerto de la Familia do not end there.

The benefits of the program are more than monetary; additional positive results of Huerto de la Familia include: “spending time with family, interacting with the broader community, decreased stress, increased self-sufficiency and self esteem, and connecting to other programs” (  Ultimately, Huerto de la Familia demonstrates the many possibilities available to community garden programs aimed at providing Latino immigrants with not only food security but also access to culturally appropriate food choices.

The next two installments of this video series can be found at:


Carruth, Allison. “Huerto de la Familia: Leading the Urban Ag Movement,” 27 August 2010. Web. 1 March 2013. <>

Huerto de la Familia. Web. 1 March 2013. <>