Backyard Gardens: Bhutanese Refugees Go Back to Their Roots
The New Roots Program at the IRC in Phoenix has begun a new project: backyard gardening Most of the refugee families involved in backyard gardening are from Bhutan and were resettled in Arizona between 2008 and 2010. According to U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, 5,320 Bhutanese refugees were admitted into United States in 2008, and by 2010 the Bhutanese refugee population increased to over 13,000.
Safala and Tek Chhetri, a couple from southern Bhutan, were two fortunate refugees that were able to escape persecution in their home country and seek safety in the United States in 2009.
Safala wrote about their escape to Nepal, “People… took shelter on the river bank where they built huts by the nearest available materials like bamboo and mud.” Most of these families also built gardens in order to feed their families.
Now that they have stable homes in United States, this group is able to return to gardening through the IRC’s New Roots Farm Program, cultivating vegetables around their homes.
Many of the Bhutanese refugees are not interested in having ornamental plants to decorate their yards. Instead they want to grow vegetables that will not only nourish their household, but also supplement their incomes. Depending on the season, you can see bitter gourds, collard greens, Asian mustards, lettuce, spinach, melons and pumpkins filling their backyards.
Some of these families were able to earn between $700-1,000 from their backyard vegetables this past fall. This income has helped them meet basic family needs. These gardens also provide improved health by allowing families to exercise through gardening and gain access to quality produce in the process. Some of these families have elderly parents who derive much joy and satisfaction in doing what they had loved most in Bhutan: farming.
Backyard gardeners receive technical assistance, training and donated chicken pellets through the New Roots Farm Program funded through the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program (RAPP). With the assistance of IRC staff, some of these families are already looking for farmland to start their own farms used for livestock production.
Considering their ambition, the hope is that many Bhutanese refugee families in Phoenix will become strongly established in farming business with the help of New Root Farm Program. Currently, IRC staff are searching for land with available irrigation in order to help Bhutanese families begin larger scale farming. They are determined to go back to their original farming roots.
For more information about the New Roots Farm Program, please contact Timothy Olorunfemi at Timothy.Olorunfemi@Rescue.org, 602.433.2440 or 602.481.1579.
Story & Photo: Timothy Olorunfemi