NEWFANE — An old farm on River Road is being reborn as a farm supporting Black, Indigenous, and people of color in Windham County.
Last year, Amber Arnold and Naomi Doe Moody, founders of SUSU commUNITY Farm, signed a lease for the former Maple Row Farm, consisting of 37 acres on the West River.
Vermont Land Trust purchased the property in March 2022 for about $500,000 and shortly thereafter entered a lease-to-purchase agreement with SUSU.
“We’re an Afro-Indigenous farm creating a multiracial community,” said Arnold. “All of our programs are Black centered, and really centered on Afro-Indigenous wisdom and traditions and ways of being.”
SUSU also works with migrants and refugees and hopes to establish a program specifically for people who identify as white, she said. SUSU also works with people in the LGBTQ+ community, she added.
The name SUSU is rooted in sou-sou, the West African word for a money-lending circle.
SUSU began farming the plot in Newfane last summer. The year before they were tending gardens on land owned by the Retreat Farm on Route 30 in Brattleboro.
They’ve been working with Circle Mountain Farm to provide produce for their customers while they get their fields ready and their greenhouses built.
“This year, we’ll still be working with Circle Mountain and they’ll grow half of our food there,” said Arnold.
As in the previous years, SUSU’s customers will have the option of coming to the farm for pickup or having their weekly share delivered.
On Wednesdays they are planning on hosting workshops where folks can come and have fun, said Arnold. They also hope to offer cooking and food as medicine courses at the farm and online.
Recently, SUSU received a $50,000 grant from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets to launch an expanded free CSA program for BIPOC families and new refugees.
“With 10 acres of prime agricultural soils, 25 acres of statewide agricultural oils, excellent river access, a three-unit house, historic barn, and sugarhouse, we knew it could be an ideal place for a new or beginning farmer to put down roots,” said Abby White, VLT’s vice president of engagement. “When we learned of SUSU’s interest in establishing a farm in the Brattleboro area we began exploring this together, eventually purchasing the farm under VLT’s ownership with the intention of selling it to SUSU after they secured their non-profit status.”
SUSU hopes to take ownership of the farm this spring, said White, who said SUSU is an example of how farming is undergoing a transformation in Vermont.
“SUSU’s mission is a compelling and urgent one — to offer life-affirming spaces for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color to thrive,” she said. “We believe that in order to protect farmland and support the next generation of farmers, all people across all communities must have equal access to land and resources. SUSU’s ownership and stewardship of Maple Row is a beautiful example of our visions coming together.”
SUSU is just one organization that VLT is working with to provide new resources for underserved communities.
“We are partnering with all four bands of the Abenaki on several projects,” said White. “This includes growing native foods on lands we own, planting native species and removing invasives, incorporating traditional ecological knowledge into the design of land restoration projects, and hosting workshops to deepen our collective understanding of Indigenous wisdom.”
“We’re growing a lot of Nigerian crops this year,” said Arnold. “We have a lot of different kinds of African tomatoes and okra and collards. We have Barbado peppers and basil from Zanzibar.”
They will also be growing fresh cilantro, green nutmeg melon, and Cherokee moon and stars watermelon, said Doe Moody.
SUSU is also developing a medicine wheel garden that is based on the Dagara cosmology of West Africa, she said.
“It’s broken up into five different quadrants,” she said. “There’s the water section, and there’s the fire section and there’s Earth in the center. And then there is mineral and nature. All of those things together make up the elements of Ashe, which is the universal lifeforce energy, the spark of life. We’re hoping to infuse all of the food that we grow there with that so that when we’re nourishing people with the food, we’re also offering them sort of a ritual space.”
Arnold said they had many people to thank for their ongoing help in establishing SUSU, including the Root Social Justice Center and Shela Linton, the Vermont Releaf Collective and the many members of the CSA who have helped them with advice on what to grow.