Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Urban Farming Program Creates Community for Refugees

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Urban Farming Program Creates Community for Refugees

Article excerpt

KANSAS CITY, KAK. * The Juniper Gardens housing development in Kansas City, Kan., is a neighborhood with high poverty rates and freauent violence. There are few businesses or grocery stores. Yet in the center of the development, oh the site of a once vacant field, an 8-acre urban farm is transforming the way refugee groups connect with the wider community.

New Roots for Refugees, a program that provides land and farming resources to refugees who settle in the Kansas City area, manages the farm. Founded by Catholic Charities of Northeastern Kansas and in partnership with the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture and the Kansas City, Kan., Housing Authority, it is one of the 188 agriculture programs funded by the U.S. Government's Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services.

In 2005 Catholic Charities of Northeastern Kansas, which has worked with refugees since 1975, began a community garden within the housing development as part of its outreach to Somali refugee women. By cultivating land, refugees produced food for their families while utilizing traditional farming skills practiced in their home countries.

In 2007, New Roots for Refugees officially launched with a government grant supporting a Farm Business Development program, managed through the ongoing partnership with the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture. Refugees not only earn supplemental income from farming, but are trained and supported with the goal of eventually purchasing their own urban farms.

After three growing seasons, New Roots for Refugees has worked with more than 100 refugees, mostly women from countries such as Bhutan, Burma, Somalia and Sudan. When refugee families arrive in the United States, men typically work in meatpacking plants or factories, leaving women at home to tend to children. "Refugee women can develop feelings of intense isolation, of detachment from community," explains Catholic Charities program coordinator Rachel Bonar. "Farming involves them in their new culture while connecting them with what is familiar."

Farming is completely subsidized in the first year. Each participant is allocated one quarter-acre and provided seeds, supplies, water, greenhouse space and transportation to local farmers' markets. "Refugees are strongly encouraged to enroll in ESL classes in order to help them communicate with customers at the market," says Cathy Bylinowski, program coordinator for the Center for Urban Agriculture. "We also provide support by having staff on the farm daily that help with supply distribution, plowing and tilling, and we maintain an irrigation system for the whole site. …

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