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Meet Qilan, a New Roots gardener

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Qilan’s baby loves tomatoes, especially big tomatoes. This is why Qilan plants these, among other vegetables, at Harmony Garden with support from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City’s New Roots program. Like so many other gardeners with New Roots, Qilan grows vegetables both to supplement her income and to feed her family. She also gardens because she enjoys the practice and the memories it evokes. When she was a child in China, her “baba and mama planted many plants” and sometimes she would join to help. Now that she herself is a mother and living in Utah, she has big plans for her garden.

Although Qilan has been developing her skills as a gardener since she was a young girl, she only began gardening in Salt Lake City two years ago with New Roots. “I [came to the] USA more than seven years ago,” she shares. “I always do housekeeping job; I want to change this life. I want to do something for myself.”

Qilan has been dreaming of the future and where her gardening will take her. Recently, a friend introduced her to a type of flower, Helianthus tuberosus, also known as sunroot or Jerusalem artichoke. That’s when an idea sprouted in Qilan’s mind.

Image of Helianthus tuberosus that produces bright yellow flowers and a starchy, edible root.

Helianthus tuberosus, also known as Jerusalem artichoke, gives Qilan new hope for a future filled with opportunity.

Photo: Courtesy of Qilan

The Jerusalem artichoke, which is closely related to sunflowers and also matures into bright yellow blooms, is a root vegetable. Qilan began to dig through online resources, researching different uses for Jerusalem artichoke. According to Qilan, Jerusalem artichoke tubers, or the starchy root of the plant, can be cooked like potatoes, pickled, or even eaten raw. Alongside the other vegetables in her garden, Qilan plans to make space for a patch of Jerusalem artichokes for the health benefits, outlined in recent studies, that show it can help regulate blood sugar and act as a sweetener for those challenged by diabetes.

Qilan is excited to begin expanding her crop selection which will help her build a strong future for herself and her family. Even now, she keeps Jerusalem artichokes in her refrigerator, learning about the plant in every way she can. She hopes that as her work brings her greater security, she may also bring job opportunities to others. Qilan's level of research, dedication and love for gardening has prepared her to not only imagine a brighter future but take the steps to create it. She asks: “What do you think of my dream?”

New Roots farmers and gardeners cultivate fresh and colorful produce every year bringing an array of vegetables to farmers markets, picked up through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm box service, and even at Whole Foods across northern Utah. This work is important for over 107 gardeners and 41 farmers, providing a supplementary source of income as well as important connections to their favorite food from their countries.

Support New Roots farmers in 2021 by signing up for the CSA Farm Box—you’ll receive a weekly dose of fresh, locally grown vegetables carefully tended by refugee farmers contributing to our community. Learn more & sign up today here »