Refugees establish new roots through farming in DraperJul 13, 2020 12:15PM ● By Stephanie Yrungaray
In the foreground, Somalian refugee Fahmo Abdullhi tends to her crops at a New Roots micro farm in Draper. (Stephanie Yrungaray/City Journals)
By Stephanie Yrungaray | [email protected]
Dressed in a colorful baati and black head covering, Fahmo Abdullhi hacks away at weeds. As she works, few people probably notice the 13 acres of farmland tucked between a park, a community garden and a busy road in Draper. But for Abdullhi and 35 other farmers from Sudan, Burma, Bhutan, Chad, Somalia and Burundi, this field is sprouting crops that signify independence, community and hope for the future.
The field is part of New Roots, a program run by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in cooperation with Wasatch Community Gardens. One of several programs created to help the estimated 60,000 refugees in Utah adjust and thrive to life in the United States, it is a unique way for refugees to add supplementary income and learn about running an agricultural business.
A refugee from Somalia, Abdullhi has lived in Utah for four years with her husband and 7-year-old daughter. She started with a smaller garden plot in the New Roots West Valley location—just northeast of the Redwood Recreation Center—and now has two 200-foot long beds. As the refugee farmers learn more and if they have a desire to grow more crops, they are moved to a larger micro-training farm space in Draper. The Draper micro-training farm is home to the more advanced farmers and provides space from the size of Abdullhi’s plot, to as many as five acres for refugees.
“Before they bring me a little garden, not the big one, for two years. They said if you like it you can come [to the micro-training farm],” Abdullhi said. “Every week I come two days, every time I have time I come.”
Abdullhi, who also does work as a housekeeper, drives an hour each way to tend to her crops. Her rows are planted with kale, serrano peppers, beans and corn, but over 100 different crops are grown in these micro-training farms including tomatoes, carrots, spinach, squash, potatoes, green beans and pumpkins. Some of Abdullhi’s produce will be used by her own family and the rest will be sold with the help of the IRC.
“Essentially we support refugee farmers in starting and maintaining small farm-based businesses,” said James Hunter, New Roots program manager for the IRC. “We provide training, technical assistance, access to seeds and supplies, a lot of training and best practices for growing crops in northern Utah and marketing support to assist refugees in connecting their products to market.”
The IRC runs three farmer’s markets where refugees can sell their crops. They also have contracts to provide produce to wholesalers, restaurants, school districts, cafeterias, restaurants, and even a salsa manufacturer in New York. Additionally, refugees can sell their produce through the New Roots produce subscription box that distributes a box of produce every week during the summer to 150 people.
Abdullhi said she likes growing food. Hunter said the micro-training farm program has many benefits for refugees.
“There is the revenue component of providing supplementary or primary income for themselves and their family, but it also helps with their connection to the community,” Hunter said. “There are a lot of really incredible social and psycho-emotional benefits of being outside and working on the land.”
The coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on the program. Hunter said they are still navigating how to proceed with farmer’s markets but there are other ways people can support the program.
“Typically we would say to support the New Roots program by buying produce, but monetary support is always appreciated,” Hunter said. “We keep a running Amazon wish list for in-kind supplies. (Amazon Wish List - New Roots SLC) Most volunteer support opportunities are on hold due to COVID to ensure the safety of our farmers and staff, but hopefully, once the pandemic subsides we will be back to having regular volunteer days. We love group volunteers.”
More information including the location of the farmer’s markets can be found at the New Roots SLC website https://sites.google.com/view/newrootsslc/Home?authuser=0 You can donate here at help.rescue.org. And learn more about volunteering here at rescue.org/volunteer-opportunities/salt-lake-city-ut.