Community garden provides fresh vegetables for Michigan refugee farmers

The Pamoja (Swahili for "together") Garden for refugees in Hudsonville, Mich., has its roots in Hudsonville's Immanuel Christian Reformed Church, a co-sponsor of refugees since 1999.

Refugeegarden.jpg
Rehema Muya with produce from the Pamoja Garden, shared by several Somali Bantu refugee families in Hudsonville, Mich. Photo: Marion Vande Steeg

Editors: Photo to accompany this story can be downloaded at http://www.churchworldservice.org/hires

The Pamoja (Swahili for “together”) Garden for refugees in Hudsonville, Mich., has its roots in Hudsonville’s Immanuel Christian Reformed Church, a co-sponsor of refugees since 1999.

“We started with five of us in a men’s Bible study,” said member Marion Vande Steeg.  “We were asked, ‘What have you personally done to help the poor and oppressed?’ and all five of us had to say, ‘Nothing.’  We decided to see if our church would get involved in sponsoring refugees.”

The congregation has worked with Bethany Christian Services’ Refugee Resettlement Program, a Church World Service affiliate in nearby Grand Rapids, to cosponsor refugees from Albania, Bosnia, Iran and Liberia.  It started the Pamoja Garden eight years ago with the help of a member who manages the Michigan Celery Co-op, a farmer-owned sales and marketing cooperative.

“The co-op previously used all of the land for dumping celery trimmings, but it doesn’t really need all of it so it agreed to let us use as much as we wanted – about four acres now,” said Vande Steeg.  “I do not think they realized how ambitious the Somali Bantu are and the garden grows larger every year!  The co-op plows and prepares the soil for us.”

In 2011 the refugee farmers enjoyed a bumper crop, which yielded more than enough for them to consume and to sell at a local farmers’ market. 

Farming in 2012 were three Somali Bantu families comprising more than three dozen people.  Too many crops withered in this summer’s drought, but the beans did well, as did the broccoli and Brussels sprouts, which the farmers grow for the leaves.  A variety of corn used to make corn meal also did reasonably well, Vande Steeg said. 

“The refugees really appreciate the access to fresh vegetables,” he said, adding, “The other benefit you can’t quantify is their love of farming.  They were farmers in Africa and love to farm.  Even though we have had a disappointing year, one of the farmers – Jafari – is telling me they need more land next year.  They are not giving up because of one dry year.  I also have always had a garden and understand farming is in his blood.”

Media Contact:
Lesley Crosson, 212-870-2676, lcrosson@churchworldservice.org
Jan Dragin, 781-925-1526, jdragin@gis.net


Share/Save/Bookmark

Browse news release archive

 

All active news articles