Meet Hameed and Ayo Bello, Farmers Growing Food and Community
Past the restaurants, banks and gas stations on busy Route 20 in Wilbraham, MA, you might be surprised to find a 10-acre farm buzzing with activity. But that’s exactly where Hameed and Ayo Bello are working to establish Agric Organics Urban Farm.
Hameed immigrated to the United States from Nigeria when he was young, and he grew up with deep connection to agriculture. His grandmother was his earliest teacher, showing him how food can nurture both body and community. When he and his wife Ayo moved to Springfield in 2015 so Hameed could pursue his education, they noticed a glaring issue.
“I was studying to become a pharmacist and I knew the importance, the symbiotic relationship that food has with medicine,” Hameed said. “Learning that Springfield was a food desert piqued my interest. I spoke to my wife, and we had a discussion as to how can we be a part of the solution? How can we use our skill set to benefit our community?”
Hameed and Ayo began searching for land where they could grow food to support their community. Eventually they were connected with a retiring farmer who was looking for someone to continue to grow food on his property in Wilbraham. After a few years of growing mixed vegetables in the challenging Massachusetts climate, Hameed wanted to get a high tunnel to extend his growing season, improve his crop health, and maximize the amount of produce he can grow for his community.
He heard that the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service provides financial assistance for farmers looking to purchase high tunnels, so he reached out to his local office. In my role at American Farmland Trust, I work with NRCS to provide conservation planning assistance to farmers and landowners in Massachusetts, and I was assigned to Hameed’s request. Hameed and I began working together to develop a conservation plan for his property. We determined that high tunnels would help extend his growing season, but another limiting resources on his property would be access to irrigation water. We’ve been working with Manuel Diaz, NRCS’s agricultural engineer, to develop a new water source and irrigation management plan to increase his irrigation efficiency and optimize his crop production. Hameed will use the conservation plan we come up with to apply for NRCS financial assistance programs to help offset the cost.
I was also able to introduce Hameed to AFT’s Brighter Future Microgrant Program, a program started in 2021 to assist farmers in successfully launching, growing, and sustaining their farms in the face of forces impacting the food and agricultural system, including the COVID-19 pandemic, changing markets, severe weather, and climate change. Through this program, he was able to secure additional caterpillar tunnels to protect and extend his season.
In the end, these changes will protect the natural resources at Agric Organics Urban Farm while maximizing the amount of healthy, local food he can provide for the community in need. This year Agric Organics will be at the Holyoke and Wilbraham farm markets, and they offer community supported agriculture (CSA) shares, weekly salad mix subscriptions, and farm memberships. Hameed hopes his farm will continue to serve as a community hub.
“We want the farm to be the hub where people can come and not only learn about agriculture, but engage with one another.” He says, “There’s no other reason we’re doing this other than our love for our neighbor.”