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

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge 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.
Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelteri
X
Scott Bobb
July 30, 2014 8:16 PM
Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video A Summer Camp for All the World

VIDEO: During workshops and social gatherings, the Global Youth Village summer camp encourages young people to cooperate and embrace their differences, while learning to communicate with people from other countries. VOA's Deborah Block has more.
Video

Video From Cantankerous Warlock to Incorruptible Priest, 'Harry Potter' Actor Embraces Diverse Roles

He’s perhaps best known as Mad Eye Moody, the whimsical wizard in the Harry Potter franchise. But character actor Brendan Gleeson's resume includes dozens of films, and he embraces all the characters he inhabits with equal passion. In an interview with VOA’s Penelope Poulou, Gleeson discussed his new drama "Calvary" and his secret to success.

AppleAndroid