Written by FoFF volunteer, John Clark Vincent. 11 March, 2014
After spending four years farming in Damascus, Ore. as a part of Mercy Corps Northwest’s refugee farming program, Russian immigrants Tatyana and Petr Puzur were ready to take another step toward self-sufficiency, but they needed land where they could continue to build their Happy Moment Farm and further increase their experience.
During their time with Mercy Corps, the Puzurs established a market for their produce, which features many specialty crops for the Russian community, at the Lents International Farmers Market. It was at Lents market where they talked with market manager Sarah Broderick about what might be possible for them in terms of finding new opportunities.
Sarah was aware of Friends of Family Farmers’ iFarm program so she contacted iFarm Director Nellie McAdams to find out if iFarm could help Tatyana and Petr locate land that would enable them to continue farming.
At roughly the same time the Puzur’s began looking for farmland, a new farm incubator program was being created by the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District (EMCSWC). The new program, called Headwaters Incubator Program, was beginning to look for its first group of farmers. So Sarah and Nellie contacted Rowan Steele, Farm Incubator Manager, to discuss the possibility of signing up the Puzurs and fellow Russian farmers Olga and Vladimir Stadnikov, Petr’s sister and brother-in-law.
Rowan was optimistic, even though some extra work was required to accommodate the language and cultural requirements. “When iFarm first approached us about Tatyana and Petr, we were looking for farmers with some experience, and they were looking for land. So we thought it might be a good fit. At that point, Nellie and Sarah, along with Sarah’s husband, Alex, who speaks fluent Russian, helped the Puzurs and Stadnikovs fill out the paperwork and put together a business plan. Some elements of their farming approach — like conservation practices and low inputs — resonate with us here at Headwaters and convinced us to accept them into our program.”
One year after signing their Headwaters contract, Tatyana, who struggles more with English than with the rigors of agriculture, recounts the experience this way… “Last winter our market manager Sarah Broderick with her husband Alex and Nellie McAdams helped us to join iFarm programs. We are happy to get this peaceful place. We like manager Rowan Steele, an amazing and caring person. In all ways iFarm presents good communication and friendly conditions. And now we like classes on the farm, the meetings. It’s a nice collective.”
Tatyana shares that the future plan for their Happy Moment Farm is to continue to study and improve their organic practices and soil stewardship. And she strongly believes that other farmers looking for land should contact the iFarm team because of their knowledge, connections, and experience.
From Rowan Steele’s standpoint, iFarm did a great job of bringing farmers to him who met his requirements of experience, established markets, and an existing support network, as well as going the extra mile to help Tatyana and Petr put together a useful business plan.
Three years from now, when Tatyana and Petr have completed their four-year stay at the Headwaters incubator farm, Rowan believes the Puzur’s business plan — if they keep it up and continue to refine it — will make it much more likely for them to qualify for any capital or loans that might become available.
And no doubt, they all will be contacting iFarm again to help Happy Moment Farm transition to its next location and hopefully its permanent home.
For more information about Headwaters Farm, visit their website: http://emswcd.org/farm-incubator/headwaters-farm/