Q&A with Regional Navigators: Mahamud Mberwa and Beth Leipler

Mo and Beth from Providence Farm Collective

Farmland for a New Generation New York Regional Navigators provide training and on-the-ground customized support for farmers and landowners in regions throughout New York. 

Featured Regional Navigators: Mahamud (Mo) Mberwa & Beth Leipler, Providence Farm Collective

1. Where in New York State do you work?

We work in Western New York.  Most of the farmers we work with live in and around Buffalo.  Providence Farm Collective (PFC) has a 37 acre farm and offices in Orchard Park, located 30 minutes South of Buffalo. 

2. What brought you to this work? What is your connection to agriculture?

Mo – I have background in farming back home in Somalia.  In 2017 I cofounded the Somali Bantu Community Farm to help my community get reconnected with land and agriculture.  We farm so we can get fresh, traditional foods to our community.   We grew into Providence Farm Collective in 2020 to reach more communities who wanted to farm. 

Beth – Since my youth I have loved gardening, traveling, and spending time outdoors.  For the last ten years I have worked in the agricultural sector, working as an agricultural Peace Corps Volunteer in Madagascar, working and managing various organic vegetable farms in Western New York, and eventually starting my own farm.  Though starting my own operation, I experienced the struggles of accessing land and capital so can empathize with farmers struggling to start their own farms.  I am honored to work with the incredible farmers at PFC and hope to support our farmers in achieving their farm dreams! 

3. In what ways do you typically work with farmers and farmland owners?

At PFC we work with over 200 farmers primarily from immigrant and refugee backgrounds.  We help grassroots community organizations and individuals who want to start farm businesses to access farmland and farming resources at PFC.  We provide educational support in crop production and small business management for our farmers through mentorship, assistance in the field, and workshops.  Due to the diversity of our farmers, we specialize multilingual and multicultural services.  

PFC provides access to land for its farmers on its farm in Orchard Park but many farmers are interested in accessing additional land.  We are working with our farmers to learn more about their farm visions and dreams.  Through the Regional Navigator program PFC hopes to connect farmers with the resources needed to realize their farm visions.

4. Can you give an example the challenges faced by the farmers you work with and how you are helping them work through those challenges? 

A few of our farmers have expressed that they would like to access farmland outside of PFC’s current location over the next two years.  The challenges they have expressed are language and cultural barriers, lack of connections to farmland owners, lack of capital, and housing concerns.  The barriers to land access for our farmers are high!  As we are in the beginning stages of these conversations, PFC is currently working to develop a larger network of support for farmers, including facilitating conversations with landowners, lenders, and agricultural service providers.  We are also working with local nonprofits and stakeholders to re-envision land access pathways for beginning farmers.

5. What is one piece of advice you have for farmers seeking land or farmland owners hoping to keep their land in farming?

For farmers seeking land, don’t give up and be patient!  It takes a lot of energy, time, networking, and persistence to access farmland that meets your needs!  

For farmland owners we would encourage them to be flexible and understanding with beginning farmers.  Take the time to create fair, and long-term leases.     

We feel it is important to think creatively about land access and to try out new land access ideas and models that better serve beginning farmers.  Everyone eats!  A strong local and resilient food system and a healthy local economy are key to the well-being of all of us, and an essential component of this is equitable land access.

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