Refugee gardens help farmers rebuild in America.
Sarbah Chimwaga washes jewel-colored carrots with a garden hose while her husband Abdikadir harvests more in the couple’s quarter-acre plot behind a church in Boise, Idaho.
Many will be distributed to subscribers in their CSA (community supported agriculture) program, who pay $450 in the spring for weekly baskets of vegetables into the autumn. The couple will sell the rest at one of Boise’s two farmers’ markets.
Both Sarbah and Abdikadir came to America as refugees a decade ago. Sarbah’s family fled Myanmar (Burma); Abdikadir is a Somali Bantu, a community of peaceful subsistence farmers pushed out of Somalia when the nation dissolved into civil war. He spent 14 years in a Kenyan refugee camp, where he learned to farm.
New start. Many refugees — including most Somali Bantu, hundreds of whom were settled in Boise by refugee agencies — were farmers in their native lands. Global Gardens, operated by non-profit Jannus Inc.’s Idaho Office for Refugees, provides opportunities to reconnect with the soil, grow their own food, and even farm commercially like the Chimwagas.
Since the mid-2000s, refugee farms have taken root in cities from Chapel Hill to Cleveland to Seattle.
Katie Painter, director of Global Gardens, says the program serves more than 200 refugee families in the Boise area and injects great energy into the city’s expanding food scene.
“They’re part of the community, and they have a big farmers’ market presence,” she says. “Refugees make up the majority of produce vendors at our Capital City Public Market.”
A plot in one of Global Gardens’ nine community gardens is free. Commercial farmers pay $300 to lease a quarter-acre plot and tap into the farmer training and marketing services Global Gardens offers.
Isha Muya has farmed for five years at Global Gardens, on top of working in a school cafeteria and translating for new refugees at a health care clinic. She sells an array of vegetables at both of Boise’s markets, pulling in $250 to $300 on market days.
Inspired by her mother-in-law’s experience running a CSA, Muya spent last year training with Global Gardens staff to operate her own.
Kind of peace. At a garden on a residential block, CSA members, some with kids in tow, trickle in to collect their weekly shares from Muya.
“I love it,” says Stacy Wiese, a first-year subscriber. “You get to meet somebody interesting every time.”
Muya says she loves it, too.
After being chased from Somalia, struggling in a Kenyan refugee camp, and enduring years of vetting to come to the U.S., Boise is her family’s home.
“People are nice here,” she says. “It is a kind of peace. Where we came from, there was no peace.”