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

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid