For resettled refugees, community gardens feel like home

The harvest is in bountiful quantities of cabbage, tomatoes, kohlrabi, corn, turnips, collard greens and other vegetables from refugee community gardens across the United States.

By Carol Fouke-Mpoyo/CWS

Garden harvest
Garden harvest
Photo: Marion Vande Steeg

The harvest is in – bountiful quantities of cabbage, tomatoes, kohlrabi, corn, turnips, collard greens and other vegetables from refugee community gardens across the United States.

Such gardens spring up nationwide every year thanks to the initiative of local resettlement agencies and their refugee clients, congregations and volunteers.  Among them are the Pamoja (Swahili for “together”) Garden in Hudsonville, Mich., about 10 miles southwest of Grand rapids, and the Tapestry Garden in Syracuse, N.Y. 

Pamoja Garden has its roots in Hudsonville’s Immanuel Christian Reformed Church, a repeat cosponsor 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 PARA Refugee Services, the Church World Service affiliate in Grand Rapids, to cosponsor refugees from Albania, Bosnia, Iran and Liberia.  Then it started the Pamoja Garden four years ago with the help of a member who manages the Michigan Celery Co-op, a growers’ sales and marketing cooperative.

“The co-op plows and prepares the soil for us,” said Vande Steeg.  “The refugees enjoy working the land and really appreciate the access to fresh vegetables.”

Somali Bantu gardeners at Pamoja Garden in Hudsonville, MI
Somali Bantu gardeners at Pamoja Garden in Hudsonville, MI. The men also participated in the Church World Service CROP Hunger Walk in Hudsonville October 10.
Photo: Marion Vande Steeg

This year’s farmers comprised four Somali Bantu families and a retirement-age Liberian couple, all from nearby Grand Rapids.

“Unfortunately most of the Liberians’ crops flooded out,” Vande Steeg said.  “But the others grew far more produce than they could use, and shared their ample harvest with the Liberians and other refugees in Grand Rapids.”

In Syracuse, N.Y., resettled refugees, including clients of the InterFaith Works of Central New York Refugee Resettlement Program, a CWS affiliate, exercised their green thumbs this summer at the Tapestry Garden.

“Not only did the garden supplement refugees’ household food basket in this recession, it also ‘felt like home’ for our many clients who come from rural communities,” said the refugee program’s director, Hope Wallis.

The city block-sized community garden was started by Women Transcending Boundaries.  It is now an annual project of a coalition that also includes InterFaith Works, the Assisi Center, Syracuse Grows, Northside Collaboratory, State University of New York Environmental Science and Forestry, City of Syracuse, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Edible Gardening and Habitat Gardening.

Read more about CWS work assisting refugees >>

 

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