VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
New lives, new roots
August 22, 2012 by The IRC
|Puspa Lal Regmi, a Bhutanese refugee resettled in Boise, Idaho, works in an IRC-supported community garden. Photo: Peter Biro/IRC|
By Ellee Igoe
Ellee Igoe is the International Rescue Committee's US Programs technical advisor for food security and agriculture.
For the IRC the idea of reconnecting refugees to the culture of their homelands by growing food was born in our San Diego resettlement office in 2007. Somali Bantu refugees, previously subsistence farmers in East Africa, were struggling to integrate into their new communities. Unemployment was high and morale was low. The IRC listened to the refugees’ needs and, working with them, built a community farm on a vacant lot in the heart of the City Heights neighborhood, home to thousands of immigrants. The farm was so successful, with more than 80 refugee families growing a variety of organic crops, that First Lady Michelle Obama called it “an example for the nation, the world,” when she visited in 2010.
Today, the San Diego New Roots Community Farm has expanded to include a second 20-acre site outside the city and supplies produce to a number of farmers markets in the area. The members of San Diego New Roots have composted more than 15,000 pounds of fruit and vegetable waste that would have gone to the landfill, and their children have promoted healthier eating in the city’s public schools.
What’s happened in San Diego stands in sharp contrast to the refugee experience. As human beings, we lose an important piece of our identity when we are uprooted. Food is a way to feel “at home” even when we are thousands of miles away
Equally important, the New Roots program offers refugees a way to push back against poor eating habits. All Americans are at risk from high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt diets. But refugees, many of whom live on limited budgets and lack information about alternatives, often turn to prepackaged or fast food, which makes them especially susceptible to developing diet-related diseases in their lifetimes.
Through the courageous act of putting down “new roots,” refugees are reminding Americans of the value of healthy, fresh foods. The program has expanded to Dallas, Boise, New York, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Seattle and other IRC resettlement locations, adapting to local needs and cultivating local partnerships.
From nutrition education to food pantries, from gardening classes to small business development, the IRC is working hand-in-hand with refugees to create a healthy future for us all.
New Roots in America
How refugees are bringing fresh, affordable produce to U.S. cities. The food is local – the story is global: Learn more and get involved at Rescue.org/NewRoots.
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