A fun photo shoot with Ma Than, Nyakang, Marianne, and Pelagie
After leaving college in Iowa in June, I took a Greyhound bus headed south not knowing much about Kansas City, or what to expect from my Summer Staff job with the New Roots for Refugees program. Little did I know that I would spend the summer working at the Northeast, KCK, and Brookside farmers’ markets, attending workshops on harvesting and fall planting, helping farmers get produce ready for market, and making trips to the bank, Homeland Security, and the rubber band store! Since my first days of work early in the summer, I have learned a great deal about the lives of refugees in the U.S., and the ways that sustainable agriculture can improve the lives of everyone involved in it.
Never having worked with refugees before, I was overwhelmed by the range of difficulties facing those who arrive in the U.S., including language barriers, change in diet, change in climate, learning to navigate a new city, and of course the loss of community and family support. While the women I worked with left much behind when they came to the U.S., New Roots allows them to reconnect with an important aspect of their past- farming. Through the program, New Roots farmers are empowered to use skills that they already have to support their families economically, while forging connections in their new communities with other farmers, CSA friends, and customers. Customers and CSA friends benefit from farmers’ labor when they receive delicious organic produce. In addition, the ethnic crops grown by New Roots farmers that have been largely unavailable in KC before this point, like m’chicha, chin baung, and bitter melon, diversify American customers’ diets and allow Asian and African people living in the area to enjoy produce from their home countries.
New Roots for Refugees demonstrates perfectly how local, sustainable farming can enrich a community, and the lives of farmers and customers alike. As the summer and my time here in Kansas City draws to a close, I think of the ways that working with the program has improved my life as well, especially in the friendships I have made with farmers and coworkers. I will miss talking and laughing with them, and learning from them- about urban agriculture, vegetables, cooking, cultural difference, and life!