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A Lancaster, Massachusetts, woman who came to the country at age 12 without a word of English is giving back by helping immigrants get a start in farming — and her model is being picked up around the nation.

Jane Dornbusch at the Boston Globe writes, “Maria Moreira, 62, is fond of the proverb ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’ When her kids were small and she and her husband had a dairy farm in this Central Massachusetts town, she had plenty of milk, hungry kids to feed, and a need to make a little money.

“So she started a business making a soft Portuguese cheese — she calls it simply Portuguese fresh cheese — that reflected her roots in the Azores, where she was born.

“That was in 1986. A year earlier, she had seen another need, and, in her own inventive way, she’d set about meeting it. Moreira and her husband, Manny, had a 70-acre field, not far from their farm, that they used to grow corn.

“A Hmong woman, an immigrant from Laos, approached Moreira about using a small corner of the field to grow her own crops. Soon, word spread, and little by little the entire field was given over to immigrant farmers, each in charge of his or her own plot. Today, says Moreira, 275 farmers are growing more than 75 kinds of vegetables at what is now called Flats Mentor Farm. …

“Gus Schumacher, former Massachusetts commissioner of food and agriculture, came to know Moreira’s work when he served as a USDA undersecretary in the late ’90s. He notes that she was among a handful of leaders — others included John Ogonowski (one of the pilots killed on 9/11) and Jennifer Hashley, of New Entry Sustainable Farming Project — supporting refugees and immigrants in establishing themselves as farmers and market gardeners. It’s a movement that has since gained momentum nationally, he says. ‘But it all started in Massachusetts.’ ”

More at the Globehere.

Photo: Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff
Maria Moreira, of Flats Mentor Farm, holds some lemon basil.

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Here are a few recent photos from Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I took all but the shivery January 1 New Shoreham plunge, which is the work of Sandra M. Kelly. I doubt I would have been brave enough even to go watch these hardy souls freeze on such a cold day.

What can I tell you about the other photos? The Hmong church near my grandson’s play school was a surprise. I knew about Hmong refugees in California, Minnesota, and Central Massachusetts. Didn’t know they were in Providence. A wonderful book about the Hmong immigrant experience is The Late Homecomer, by Kao Kalia Yang, who grew up in St. Paul.

I include a porcine household god from Providence, a bathrobe in the guest room where I awaited the arrival of my new granddaughter in December, and two aspects of the Seekonk River on January 1.

The photo I call “In Trial Realest, a Message from Beyond,” is one I was determined to capture while the sign was broken. It called to me from my office window as it lit up at dusk. I’m glad I caught it when I did, because the neon letters are now all working, and its message is no longer as interesting.

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My husband and I like Colin Cotterill’s quirky mystery books about Dr. Siri Palboun of Laos. The series starts with The Coroner’s Lunch, in case you are interested.

Cotterill has been involved in several worthy causes in Laos, including one addressing the abysmal lack of children’s books in the country. You can read how he got started on his quest for children’s books, here. That work is now handled by Sasha Alyson at Big Brother Mouse, who writes:

“Do you remember the excitement of rushing home to read a book that you hoped would never end? Many Lao children have no such memories, because they’ve never seen a book that was fun or exciting to read. Some have shared textbooks; others have never seen a book at all. We sometimes have to explain how books work: ‘Look, if you turn the page, there’s more!’ ”

Big Brother Mouse is a “Lao-based, Lao-owned project.” More.

Cotterill also works with http://www.copelaos.org to help victims of land mines left over from the CIA’s “secret war.”

And, pointing out that more than 75 percent of children in the far north of Laos have no schools, Cotterill funds efforts to get hill tribe students into teachers colleges. More.

Art: Colin Cotterill at http://www.colincotterill.com

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