HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Nuestras Raíces hosted its 30th Anniversary Harvest Festival to celebrate three decades of supporting urban agriculture on Saturday.

The festival also celebrated how Nuestras Raíces helped the lives of residents in Holyoke and western Massachusetts. The afternoon was filled with food, dancing, a farmers market, kids’ activities, and live music by local groups such as Raquel Y Su Nuevo Impacto and Sensacion Urbana.

Nuestras Raíces was formed in 1992 by a group of farmers that immigrated from Puerto Rico, like other fellow community members. Living in a city with few opportunities to grow, they discovered a deserted lot in South Holyoke that was covered in trash, such as used hypodermic needles and frequented by criminal activity.

They all worked together to transform the lot into the area’s first community garden. That sparked the birth and growth of urban agriculture in Holyoke, under the umbrella of the organization.

“From a fairly simple start, we’ve grown to more than 600 members,” said Hilda Roque, Executive Director of Nuestras Raíces. “Our members include community gardeners, local farms, tenant farmers, local small businesses, local business people, and a number of volunteers. We are very excited to celebrate the fact that we’ve been working with our neighbors to improve local food availability for 30 years. We hope our friends and neighbors will join us in the celebration and help us grow even more.”

Nuestras Raíces works to support low-to-moderate income families who sell crops grown in Puerto Rico, lease their commercial kitchen and restaurant in Holyoke to food entrepreneurs, and so much more. The organization’s crown jewel is the 30-acre urban farm called “La Finca” where local farming tenants grow familiar crops from their home island.

“Being able to grow in your backyard all these vegetable and all these products it’s always good and it’s for the whole family. It’s always good to be able to get fresh fruit from your backyard,” said Jesus Rivera of Coquito Chukito.

Local farmers and entrepreneurs are what sparked the birth of urban agriculture in Holyoke. They help provide healthy fresh produce to local food deserts and spread awareness.

“Our founding members came from Puerto Rico doing agriculture, and what they wanted to instill in the younger generations is, your values, your history. We not only do agriculture, we do culturally relevant food. We celebrate, like what I was saying, the blessing of having this land to you know preserve not only agriculture, that so many of us have lost, but also connect us to our culture, connect us to the land, connect us to our people,” Roque added.

The organization also provides classes for local entrepreneurs who want to cultivate and sell crops traditionally grown in Puerto Rico, teach local residents how to farm, understand how to manage money, and obtain their food handler license, among other services.

“A lot of people don’t realize they live in a food desert which is where they are basing their nutritional intake on their income, their common practice would be to go to a corner store or Bodega but that kind of community can’t afford to go further out to pay for nutritious foods,” said Gustavo Agudelo of Agudelo Farm and Apiary. He told 22News, “I’m bringing awareness about the food deserts they can supplement their diets and do better and break the system that way.”

“It’s just a great feeling all together, we’re getting to where people can go and Nuestras Raíces has done a great job in 30 years doing that, trying to accommodate the needs of the people instead of like us trying to figure out what people want,” said Roque.

The Harvest Festival took place at “La Finca” on Saturday. Local businesses donated funds, materials, raffle prizes, and more was featured. Festival admission was free.

RAFFLE SPONSORS

  • MD Beauty Salon- 2 Gift Certificates
  • La Isabela Mini Market- 2 $75 gift card
  • Fiesta Café- 4 $50 certificates
  • Sol Karibe Restaurant and Bar- 2 $40 Certificates
  • Paraiso Colombiano Restaurant- 2 Certificates (to dine-in at their location)
  • Trader Joe’s-Hadley MA location- 1 grocery basket
  • Alexander Cordero, Realtor®- 20 Vacation Vouchers for Orlando & Las Vegas

EXHIBITORS

  • Coquito Chukito
  • D’ Coco Soap
  • Andujar Craft & Art
  • Local Farmers

SPONSORS

  • Holyoke Gas and Electric
  • Bresnahan Insurance Agency, Inc.
  • Marcotte Ford Sales, Inc
  • United HealthCare Community Plan
  • Trustee of Reservations
  • Partners for Community