New Americans, New Farmers: How immigrants and refugees are enriching the landscape

A New American farmer with Burlington, VT’s
New Farms for New Americans

by Susannah Spero

Farms run by New Americans are thriving all over the United States. Fueled primarily by federal and state funding, New American agriculture programs offer immigrants and refugees opportunities to prosper from their agricultural skills while gaining valuable English language, marketing, and management experience.

New Americans often worked as farmers in their native countries and thus possess a great deal of agricultural knowledge; however, after arriving in the United States, New Americans may lack the capital necessary to purchase land or manage a farm business. Agricultural programming for New Americans extends the benefits of the local food and farming movement to these populations, merging public interest in the development of vibrant regional food economies with New Americans’ expertise and needs.

Vermont, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Idaho, as well as many other states, host notable New Americans agriculture programs, many of which are funded by the Refugee Agriculture Partnership Program and the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Farmers from nations including Somalia, Cambodia, Bhutan, Burundi, Liberia, and Vietnam have thrived on American soil and started successful small farm businesses. Nonprofit organizations assist New Americans in learning the intricacies of the fickle North American climate, identifying prospective marketing channels, managing a farm business, and obtaining land, tools, and seeds.

New Farms for New Americans, a highly successful refugee and immigrant agriculture enterprise in Burlington, Vermont, provides New Americans with small plots of land in a communal field, and assists more ambitious clients with finding additional acreage. Fresh Start Farms in Portland, Maine, is a collective of New Americans who manage individual farms. Through Fresh Start Farms, the participants receive trainings and consultations on growing produce in the unfamiliar Maine climate.

Participants in such programs sell their produce or value-added products at neighborhood market stands, to restaurants, CSAs, and supermarkets, earning income while providing their communities with organic, locally grown produce. New Americans often grow crops native to their home countries, such as lemongrass and snake gourds, and use diverse growing techniques, such as trellising cucumbers.

In the Southern Tier region of NYS, the Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming is working to make land and other resources more available to New Americans interested in farming. Groundswell offers foreign-born and children of foreign-born Americans, refugees, and immigrants tailored farm business management, production, and marketing training; mentoring from experienced farmers and business advisors; and affordable access to land at EcoVillage in Ithaca, NY. Funding for this effort comes from a generous grant by the Appalachian Regional Commission, and is made possible by the “New Americans Initiative” recently launched by the NYS Department of State Office for New Americans.

By embarking upon this initiative, Groundswell hopes to help New Americans, including refugees and immigrants, participate in economic and entrepreneurial opportunities afforded by the growing local foods movement. Our goal is to increase the number of New American farmers in Central New York in order to enhance the cultural diversity of our farms and communities, which will also keep agricultural land and infrastructure in production.
To learn more about what Groundswell can offer, visit our

Susannah Spero helps Groundswell connect with New Americans in Ithaca. To learn more about Susannah, check out her volunteer profile.

Are you a new American, an immigrant or a refugee?
Do you want to learn more about farming, or start your own farm?
Groundswell can help!
Call us at 607-319-5095 or email