News / USA

Farming Helps Refugees Put Down Roots

Cultivating urban plots is part of refugee resettlement programs all over US

Farmer Pabi Tiwari,  who moved to Oregon from a Nepalese refugee camp, enjoys a lemon cucumber fresh from the fields.
Farmer Pabi Tiwari, who moved to Oregon from a Nepalese refugee camp, enjoys a lemon cucumber fresh from the fields.

Multimedia

Audio
Deena Prichep

For refugees, starting over in a new country can feel like landing on a new planet. It’s difficult enough to understand daily life, much less face the challenges of finding a job.

In America’s Pacific Northwest, a program to ease the refugee resettlement experience is helping people put down new roots, literally, through agriculture.

But learning to be an American farmer can be a tough row to hoe.

A few years ago, a small plot in southeast Portland, Oregon, was an empty lot. Now, it’s a densely-planted farm. Tomatoes are ripening on the vines and the lemon cucumbers are nice and juicy.

Learning curve

David Beller, the farm’s coordinator, is not happy with the fields. “Everyone come here, and feel how dry this is. I can’t believe this stuff is even alive.”

The farmers Beller is working with are refugees from Bhutan, a small, landlocked country in the Himalayan highlands, on China’s southern border.

Their translator says, "Oh, they thought that they doesn’t have to put water in.”

Farm program manager David Beller talks to refugee farmers Pabi Tiwari, Guman Bharati, Jumuna Bharati and Pabitra Tiwari.
Farm program manager David Beller talks to refugee farmers Pabi Tiwari, Guman Bharati, Jumuna Bharati and Pabitra Tiwari.

The refugees-turned-farmers arrived in Portland a couple of years ago and are now part of the New American Agriculture Program at MercyCorps Northwest. The group is known for its international development work, but a local division helps people in Washington state and Oregon.

“We started working with refugees, engaging them in urban agriculture in 2004, with the motivation that food is a connector, and there was growing interest in local food," says John Haines, who directs the local program. "And the refugees were coming with motivation, some skills in growing.”

Putting down roots

The idea of small urban plots, where people can earn supplemental income close to their homes, is now a part of refugee resettlement programs all over the country. There are Somali Bantus farming in Boise, Idaho, and refugees from Burundi growing crops in Seattle, Washington.

When Bal Tiwari moved to Portland from a Nepalese refugee camp, he was excited to have the opportunity to farm again. In fact, he was just glad to discover that America had farms.

Up until a few years ago, this MercyCorps Northwest farm plot in southeast Portland, Oregon, was a vacant lot.
Up until a few years ago, this MercyCorps Northwest farm plot in southeast Portland, Oregon, was a vacant lot.

“He said that he never thought that he’ll get an opportunity to work in the farm," says the translator who is interpreting for Tiwari. "Because they said that America doesn’t have any kind of agriculture production, and he thought he’ll get all the things from out of country.”

Becoming an American farmer is a big adjustment for refugees. First, they speak very little English, and often have little formal education, which limits their ability to use most training materials. They also have to adapt to a different climate. Back in their home countries, many refugees practiced a casual subsistence agriculture, cultivating fruits and vegetables for their families. Here, they produce a marketable crop on dense, urban plots.

“For example, these farmers are really into planting beans spaced out farther than I like," farm manager David Beller says. "And they’re convinced that it’s the best way to grow beans, and they’re easier to pick and better quality. And I’m convinced of exactly the opposite. So there’s a healthy tension between different practices.”

Going to market

The learning process doesn’t end at the harvest. MercyCorps staff also teach farmers how to grade their crops for the American market and how to pack it so that it won’t bruise. The hard work is paying off.

The Portland plots now produce enough vegetables to sell to local farmers’ markets, a few restaurants and members of their Community-Supported Agriculture program. And the benefits go beyond the economic.

“They get some connectivity to the wider community. They’re comfortable getting on a bus going across town, they get comfortable with selling at a market," director John Haines says. "So we find it’s a way to bridge isolation as much as provide a modest income.”

And, of course, there are also the edible benefits, as a translator relays for Pabi Tiwari.  "They are getting the fresh vegetables and the fresh fruits. They don’t have to pay in market. It’s kind of free food and fresh food.”

Although, as Nisha Basnet laments, it’s not quite as good as back home. "We have a very sour tomato in Nepal, and here it is kind of sweet or something. It doesn't taste good like Nepal.”

The Nepalese farmers hope that they’ll someday be able to get seeds for their native tomatoes and beans, and grow them right here in the Northwest.

You May Like

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid