THE LATINO FARMERS’ COOPERATIVE by Marian Hancock

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I have been jokingly told by the director of the Latino Farmers’ Cooperative of Louisiana (LFCL) that it has been inaptly named. It is an organization that helps all people, not only Latinos; it does not have a farm, only a small community garden; and it is not a cooperative.

But when the organization received its name it was a full-fledged farm. Just last year, LFCL adopted an English language learning program. In an attempt to maintain public recognition, they have kept their name.

LFCL is a demand-driven service organization. That is what drew me to this organization in the first place. Oftentimes service organizations provide what they think a population will need. They do not provide what the population actually needs. But the Latino Farmers’ Cooperative only exists to provide the services that the clients need.

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Tom Zolot (my site supervisor) holding up giant turnips from the community garden. 

On the membership sign-up sheet there is a checklist of services that a new member may want to receive from LFCL: a food bank, English classes, nutrition classes, poultry production, farmers markets and/or small-scale urban farming. As I archived the newmember information, I noticed a shift away from an agricultural need and towards an educational need. Similarly, the organization has adjusted to provide a stronger educational component including a diversity of classes and class sessions.

LFCL originally focused on offering education and training so members could grow and eat healthy food in urban sustainable farms. The community garden still allows for small agricultural projects. Nutrition classes are still thriving at the Coopertativa, as we call it there.

The work that I do addressed the socioeconomic issues of the Latino community in Louisiana. As I previously stated, the Cooperativa is available to all people who seek help, not just Latinos. As the assistant to the case manager, I help clients read, understand and fill out legal documents. Most often, we help clients with government aid documents such as forms for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid. These documents are offered by the government in Spanish, but they have been poorly translated. It is as if someone input the English version of the form into an online translator, and they hand out this unintelligible version in Spanish. So as an assistant to the case manager, part of my job is to explain the forms and the timeline the client should expect from the process.

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A “Communal Vegetable Sale” sign outside of the Cooperativa. 

To me this is the most interesting part of my internship: being able to help people face-to-face. It is my passion to speak Spanish so I love being able to speak Spanish with the clients. I studied abroad in Chile in South America, but the majority of the clients speak Spanish with a Nicaraguan or Honduran accent. I am learning different dialects and pronunciations through my work at the Cooperativa.

Right now most of my Spanish classes are focusing on Latino literature, which does not exactly tie into my internship. I am taking Latin American culture class though. This class has helped me understand the geopolitics and history of the homelands of
many clients. We are learning about the political leaders who made Latin America independent from Spain and dissuaded the United States from invading after Spain left. This class information allows me to understand the countries where many of the clients have come from. It allows me to understand why people left their home countries to come to New Orleans, a city that does not provide many public services to the Latino community.

So often Spanish-speakers (they aren’t necessarily immigrants) are shunned and do not feel welcomed in this country of immigrants. When I first moved abroad and my Spanish abilities weren’t very good, I would try to run errands and I would get very frustrated at myself and the people around me. Not being able to communicate what I needed made me feel defeated. Store owners worked with me and were happy that I was trying to speak Spanish. I don’t think this is a common occurrence in the United States. Store workers get frustrated when Spanish-speakers aren’t fluent in English and give up on helping. 

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Inexpensive international foods for sale for clients inside the office.

LFCL builds a place where people can feel like they belong. It promotes community involvement for everyone. We who work at the Cooperative will not give up on helping our clients. This allows a feeling of belonging for everyone. The Latino Farmers’ Cooperative filled the void of services provided to the Latino community in New Orleans. It allows for a sense of connection to the city for both adults and urban youth.

 

 

 

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