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Growing potential with New Roots

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Hameed Algezafee shows the tomato seedlings he is planting. Photo: Dennis Godfrey

Like the tiny seedlings in the greenhouse at the CamelBackyard Community Food Hub, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Phoenix’s New Roots Farm Stand has a lot of potential.

Hameed Algezafee planted seeds that are now little tomato plants, barely more than a quarter-inch tall. He’s been growing tomatoes for a long time—just about his whole life—both in his home country of Sudan and now in Arizona.

As a seasoned farmer and gardener, Hameed understands potential. He knows that some of the plants will grow rapidly, while others wither. Those survivors soon will require more space, which he can provide at his garden plot a few miles from CamelBackyard. If all goes well, those seedlings will become fruitful vines, providing red, beautiful tomatoes.

Seedlings grown by refugee farmers are ready to be planted. Photo: Colette Roark, Make Your Memory Photography

Some of those tomatoes—in addition to okra and eggplant and cabbage and watermelons—that Hameed grows may end up at the New Roots Farm Stand. 

The New Roots Farm Stand at CamelBackyard is open 9am to noon on Saturdays at the one-acre site, located near 16th Avenue and Camelback Road. It is intended as an outlet for growers who are trained and supported by the IRC’s New Roots program.

In addition to the Farm Stand, CamelBackyard also hosts an aquaponics greenhouse with tilapia, raised garden beds and an outdoor classroom. The site at CamelBackyard is spacious, and the IRC has plans to continue developing the site to benefit refugee farmers and the entire Camelback Corridor community.

The New Roots program, however, is not just about selling tomatoes and other produce.

“The IRC is very helpful,” Hameed says. “They help people get land. They give you seeds, stuff like that.”

Refugee women plant seedlings at a New Roots community garden. Photo: Colette Roark, Make Your Memory Photography

That is a succinct description of the New Roots program. The IRC in Phoenix does provide land—raised beds at CamelBackyard, 30-by-30 plots at the Cross Connections site at 39th Ave and Dunlap, and half-acre plots at the Benedict site, 85th Avenue and Thomas Road, as well as quarter acre plots in partnership with Spaces of Opportunity in South Phoenix and Agave Farm.

New Roots, however, is more than just community gardens. It provides training on what kinds of crops grow well in Arizona, and helps growers learn when to plant, how to irrigate, and when to harvest for market. As with all IRC programs, the New Roots program is intended to encourage self-sufficiency. That may mean helping a refugee grow produce to sell for primary or supplemental income. It may mean helping a family gett access to fresh, nutritional food. It may also be a vehicle to mental health.

“I think a lot of time we forget to talk about the mental health benefits of being outside and meeting people. Especially if they are newly arrived and don’t know a lot of people and they’re stuck in their apartments,” says Jillian Robinson, New Roots manager for the IRC in Phoenix.

Hameed understands that better than most. He grew up raising farm animals, vegetables, fruit, and even cotton in his native Sudan.

Many New Roots clients share an agricultural background, says Robinson. “They range from having no experience to having (had) their own farm.”

The intent of New Roots is to help refugees and others new to this country, but the program is open to everyone. “We put a priority on refugees and IRC clients but if there’s available land someone could definitely garden there,” says Anna Cobb, New Roots program assistant.

New Roots farmers grow a variety of produce, including lettuce, tomatoes, beets, turnips, watermelon, eggplant, and okra. Photo: Lindy Drew

Hameed sells most of his products, as do about 60 percent of the New Roots participants. The Farm Stand is a potential mainstay for his sale of produce. Hameed has other places to sell his products as well, knowing like every farmer does that more markets means more potential sales.

Hameed does all of the work at his garden plot. The sale of okra, tomatoes, eggplant and watermelon supplement his income from a job, where he works three days a week. On his off days, Hameed gardens and goes to school.

Hameed is a seasoned gardener and has been in the United States for five years. But in some ways, he is like the tomato seedlings. Like them, he has potential to become more than what he is now.

Get your favorite vegetables or try something new at the New Roots Farm Stand! Photo: Lindy Drew

He recognizes that potential and has ambitious goals. He intends to become a pharmacist. But when he is a pharmacist, he will not be giving up his garden. “I will do both of them,” he says.

Support refugee farmers like Hameed by visiting the New Roots Farm Stand at CamelBackyard, open every Saturday from 9am – 12pm in Spring 2020! All produce is organic and locally grown. For EBT users, we offer Fresh Fund, a dollar to dollar match, and any customer will receive free produce with their purchase!

Find out more at our Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/2544999875747585/

Story by Dennis Godfrey, IRC in Arizona volunteer