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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    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.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora