International Rescue Committee (IRC)

At the farm

By Julie Sweet

Guest blogger Julie Sweet works for Earnest Eats, which supports the International Rescue Committee’s New Roots program with their Dark Choco Mint whole food nutrition bars made with refugee-grown mint. New Roots enables refugees to reestablish their ties to the land, celebrate their heritage and nourish themselves and their neighbors by planting strong roots—literally—in their new communities.

It doesn’t look like much, just a small plot of land off a busy six-lane road. But as soon as I stepped out of the van I knew this place was special. The IRC’s New Roots farm in San Diego is not just an oasis of green hidden among urban sprawl but a spiritual oasis too. The first thing I noticed was three generations of a family working together. The grandfather was talking to a boy around 3 years old as he dug in the dirt. I’m not sure what language they were speaking or what crop they were growing, but their joy was easily understood. 
 
One of the first things I learned as a new employee of Earnest Eats was about the IRC and its work helping people who have been uprooted by persecution, conflict and disaster.  Our company uses ingredients grown by refugee farmers—in this case mint grown at this small community farm for our new Dark Choco Mint Baked Whole Food Bar. Earnest Eats makes a donation from the sale of each bar to support the IRC’s global humanitarian efforts. 
 
Today we wanted to share the finished bars with the farmers. What I didn’t realize was how much the farmers would share with us. 
 
We were quickly introduced to Noueth, a Cambodian woman with a warm, broad smile. She showed us the mint and explained how she grew, harvested and dried it for our bars. While tasting the mint and chatting about the bars, one my teammates, Jake, asked Noueth: “How did you come to the U.S.?” 
 
I’m sure Jake knew every refugee has a complex and often painful story, but he couldn’t have known that his question would unlock a first-hand, heart-breaking tale of world history. 
 
Noueth lived in Cambodia in the late 1970s during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, leaders responsible for one of largest genocides in human history. She told us about living in a death camp and losing five children to illness and starvation. She told us how she often wanted to die and looked for ways to take her own life. She detailed three attempts to escape including one with her five-year-old son, whose legs were too thin to support his body, strapped to her back. She survived by trudging neck-deep through endless bug-infested swamps and foraging for food. The IRC helped Noueth reach the U.S. and start a new life. Today she is proud of two American-born children, two grandchildren, and what she lovingly refers to as “the garden.” 
 
In addition to mint, Noueth grows greens native to Cambodia. She brings some home for her family to eat and the rest is sold at local farmer’s markets. That is part of New Roots’ goal: to bring refugees together through urban agriculture, provide access to fresh and healthy foods, establish a space for community gathering and support, and give individual refugees an opportunity to earn income by selling their harvests. 
 
I can see how the small farm plays a central role in Noueth’s life, helping her heal and find happiness.  “I don’t want to look back,” Noueth says. “The garden puts something in front of me that gives me hope.”
 
Visiting New Roots and meeting Noueth gives me hope too. I have a five-year-old son of my own. Hearing the story of Noueth’s journey brought me to tears and gave me a new perspective. Since that day, every time I fret over some minutia in my children’s lives I remember Noueth and her struggle for survival. This helps me remember what is really important. I feel a huge sense of pride knowing that Earnest Eats is helping create real social change. 
Earnest Eats Dark Choco Mint bar with fresh mint grown by refugee farmers
An Earnest Eats Dark Choco Mint bar with fresh mint grown by refugee farmers
Photo: Erin Oveis Brant
Help support New Roots refugee farmers yourself by looking for Earnest Eats Dark Chocolate Mint Bars in all Raley’s, Wegman’s and select Natural Food Stores, Whole Foods and Safeway stores or online on earnesteats.com or amazon.com.  Just look for the IRC logo on the front of every bar. 
 

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