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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, May 19, 2024

Farming for a future

The New Entry Sustainable Farming Project is working to empower new local farmers.


A produce stand at a farmers market is pictured.

Daniela Aldrich was living in New York City as a professional ballerina and had just finished apprenticing with the NYC Ballet when she began to feel disillusioned with the idea of a ballet career and yearned to go back to school. So Aldrich attended Dickinson College and during her time there, studied abroad in Brazil. While in Brazil she got to know local farmers and realized she wanted to make a career in farming. New Entry Sustainable Farming Project provided Aldrich with the opportunity to do just that.

New Entry was founded in 1998 as part of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts.

“Our goal when the organization was first started was to make sure that we have future farmers that are trained to steward the land and continue to grow food,” Jennifer Hashley, the project director for the organization, said. “Our target audience at that point was immigrants and refugees who had farming backgrounds who were coming to find farming opportunities.”

“For the first many years of New Entry, we were really learning about what kind of programming was needed to support folks who didn't grow up here to start farming in Massachusetts in a very temperate climate, instead of the tropical climate where many of our farmers from Southeast Asia or African countries or Latin America were coming from,” Hashley said.

When more people found out about New Entry and expressed interest in benefiting from their programming, the organization expanded in 2007 to serve all beginner farmers.

Now, New Entry’s services can be broken down into three major categories. First is the farmer training section which includes courses and workshops at the incubator farm in Beverly, Mass. The incubator farm program is three years long and provides beginners with both hands-on farming experience and guidance for navigating the business aspect of farming. Enrollment in the incubator program costs about $1,500 per year, plus fees.

Aldrich, who worked full-time through her three years in the incubator program appreciated the safety network and level of time commitment.

“I was doing very limited hours at New Entry, and I wasn't able to go every day. So it was great because you are sharing a space and sharing resources with other farmers [and] it just feels like you're not on your own as much,” she said. “The New Entry staff and farmer support team help you with questions you have about farming on the production side and also for developing a business.”

Thanks in large part to this support, Aldrich founded Dancing Harvest Farm in South Portland, Maine.

The second part of New Entry services is the Food Hub. The Food Hub helps distribute local farmers’ produce by aggregating and selling to the wholesale markets, farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture programs.

“We're trying to kind of steer away from some of the direct market outlets and really help the Food Hub focus on more wholesale institutional and food access markets that farmers aren't going to be able to sell to directly on their own very easily,” Hashley said.

The final area of New Entry’s services is what Hashley calls the “national capacity building network.” New Entry was one of the first organizations in the country to create an incubator farm program aimed at training new sustainable farmers and in 2011, they created the National Incubator Farm Training Initiative.

“We started doing a national conference, we built toolkits, we had networking events regionally [and] we did technical assistance with up and coming programs,” Hashley said.

New Entry launched an apprenticing initiative to help other farming organizations “elevate” their own curriculums and training in 2016.

However, Hashley acknowledged that the New Entry cannot protect people from the challenges of the farming industry.

“An incubator model is one way to give people an opportunity where there's already land [and] a supportive environment. The infrastructure is there and you just kind of come and start your business,” she said. “And then the real question that a lot of programs are asking themselves now is: Do we actually have a place for our farmers to graduate to? The big challenges haven't gone away; it's still hard to find land and afford it and build all the infrastructure on a farm from scratch.”

Mohammed Hannan, who immigrated from Bangladesh in 2008, is a graduate of the New Entry’s incubator farm and founder of Hannan Healthy Foods, a certified organic farm in Lincoln, Mass.

“Finding land, particularly in the Northeast, is not easy unless you are a millionaire,” Hannan said.

He believes that if the incubator program could be extended from three years to five years, farmers would have a better chance to ground themselves in their new businesses.

“People would be able to manage the farmland while they are on the program,” Hannan said. “So, they could transfer all their skills and the customers to the new business.”

Despite these challenges, Hannan has found that the New Entry support network, especially the Food Hub, has continued to be helpful. 

“One big thing is that New Entry buys produce from the graduate farmers, and we can still continue selling to them,” he said.

This assistance is essential in an industry that isn’t geared toward uplifting small, local farms. Hannan works full time, in addition to his farm, to be able to support his family.

“Though [farming] is very important, I don't think many people see it's very important because farmers do not have good health insurance. They do not have access to money to send their kids to good schools,” Hannan said. “The truth is we all need food, but we don't care where it is coming from. We want to pay bare minimum for the produce, ignoring where it is coming from and how it has been grown.”

New Entry aims to provide solutions for this sweeping issue through its tri-faceted approach. The industry still has a ways to go, and it will take more nationwide organizing which is why the organization works to affect public policy as well as engage the next generation.  

New Entry has never received direct funding from Tufts’ budget, but it was founded by Hugh Joseph, an adjunct assistant professor at the Friedman School. Because of this Tufts connection, the organization is able to connect students to different pathways of involvement.

“We engage a lot of students through internships, directed studies, class research projects, whatever our students are interested in and we definitely try to provide those opportunities for students to engage with what we do,” Hashley said

For Hannan and Aldrich, their passion for cultivating fresh, high-quality food still burns strong. Hannan hopes to eventually dedicate full-time to his farm instead of balancing two jobs.

“I still like it — being outdoors and working with my hands,” he said.

Drawing parallels between the act of farming and ballet, Aldrich noted the love of movement and physicality required for both disciplines.  

Aldrich said, “It feels like using your body for something greater, for a bigger picture.