Growing Together: Refugee Gardeners at the Church of the Incarnation
In his birth country of Bhutan, and later in a Nepalese refugee camp, Abidal Biswa grew tropical fruits like mangos and guavas. When he and his family came to Charlottesville through the International Rescue Committee, one of the first things he sought was a space to continue growing fresh food.
As part of the New Roots program, the IRC in Charlottesville has built over 40 raised garden beds to support refugee gardeners, many of whom come to the U.S. with years of agricultural experience. Additionally, community partners like the Church of the Incarnation provide extra space for the growing number of interested gardeners.
The Church of the Incarnation hosts two refugee families at its community garden, currently in its inaugural season. Alongside the Biswas, Raymonde Mbahonankwa and her husband, Gasper Ntegukongirwa, originally from Burundi, planted eggplant and tomatoes. “We love having them here,” says Kristen Schenk, the Church of the Incarnation’s Coordinator of Justice and Charity.
At the Biswa family’s garden plot at the Church of the Incarnation’s community garden, large pumpkin leaves shade green beans and squash. Church of the Incarnation staff and volunteers plan to help the family build a trellis for the tomatoes that are cropping up. Abidal and his children visit the garden on his days off from work.
“Our garden is flourishing, and Raymonde, Abidal, and their families are a huge part of that! We enjoy the spirit they bring to our church community’s effort, the variety of the produce they are growing, and the chance to learn more about their families and cultures,” adds Schenk.