Last spring, myself, along with Erica Marcus (Communications and Advocacy Manager at the International Rescue Committee) and Maggie Heyward, project catalyst and volunteer, met at the Sheridan Street Community Garden to discuss a possible refugee farming project. The garden has two plots currently being cultivated by two refugee families. Next year, we hope to add 2 more plots and expand the project to other community gardens. Templeton Community Garden has also agreed to set aside several plots for refugees, working with the Ethiopian Community Development Council. This winter, we will survey other community gardens in the area to see if other plots might be available for the 2013 growing season.
In June, we met with the Executive Director and other staff members at the IRC to discuss how their “New Roots” initiative might be implemented in the Washington, D.C. area. They were enthusiastic about proceeding with efforts here and agreed to commit resources whenever possible.
Our working group now includes people with backgrounds in immigrant farming, community gardening, and refugee resettlement in the U.S. We have expanded to include other refugee resettlement organizations such as Lutheran Social Services and hope to circulate a questionnaire to refugees in the area that will give us a better sense of how many people are interested in gardening and/or farming and what kinds of agricultural training/skills they might have or might hope to gain. We’re also developing a list of resources that are currently available to help refugees, asylees, and immigrants in gardening and farming in the area.
One priority is to gain access to more land for both community gardening and farming in Prince George’s County (close to where most of the refugees live), and are working on a possibility very close to the Sheridan Street Community Garden. We also want to visit the Baltimore “New Roots” project and possibly some others on the east coast to get some ideas about what programs have worked and what are some models we might follow. We’ve discussed the possibility of starting a farm incubator as well as developing youth programming.
There seems to be a nice alignment of talents and other ingredients to make this project grow. We anticipate that in the spring there will be an expanded program, even if it is spread out among community gardens in Prince George’s County. Please let us know if you'd like to get involved in this exciting new project!