Refugee Farm Stand Continues!

On Wednesdays, the earthy smell of fresh basil permeates NSC’s office, drawing staff away from their desks to the main lobby. Here they find the Refugee Farm Stand, a weekly farmer’s market that has taken place at NSC since June 29, 2016. It’s not just NSC staff that are drawn to the farm stand. Clients line up, eager to have a small taste of home and cook with vegetables from their homeland – roselle, bitter melon, mustard greens… Congolese children grin as they bite into the first harvested African eggplants of the season; in fact, the first African eggplants harvested in all of Philadelphia.
NSC has operated two refugee gardens in South Philadelphia for several years now – Growing Home Garden since 2011, and Growing Together Garden since 2015. To date, these gardens have met the nutritional needs of refugees, created a safe community for newcomers, and provided a space for families to put down roots as they begin to call Philadelphia home.

image1In 2016, several gardeners were granted with an additional opportunity – to participate in the Beginner Farmer’s Training program, provided by Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Through this program, the twelve current participants, all socially disadvantaged individuals of Philadelphia including three refugees, learn about organic crop planning, propagation, planting techniques, harvest and post-harvest handling, farm marketing, and business development. The three refugee participants, now entrepreneurial growers, decided to start a farm stand at NSC, with the hopes of possibly expanding at a later point to the Point Breeze neighborhood where the Growing Together Garden resides. All of the produce in the farm stand is planted, grown, and harvested by these three individuals, using the skills and knowledge they acquired in training, supplemented by the farming experience they bring with them from Bhutan, Burma, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Those eggplants that children happily bit into this week came from the seeds of a single African eggplant in Concord, New Hampshire. The 168 seeds from that single eggplant are now being harvested for the first time in Philadelphia. Many of the other crops are ones that originally came from refugees’ countries of origin, seedlings that were carefully preserved and that have now become a part of Philadelphia’s biodiversity.

Food access is a crucial part to refugees’ integration into their communities. Many are resettled into low-income neighborhoods and food deserts, meaning it is difficult to find affordable and nutritious food within a reasonable distance. With many refugees arriving with a number of health issues and living close to or below the poverty line, being able to provide their families with healthy and reasonably priced food is of utmost importance. The gardens have granted the opportunity to those who work at the gardens to grow their own food.
With the new farm stand, the availability of affordable and healthy food has been extended to those who don’t have plots at the gardens or who do not live in the same neighborhoods as the gardens. Now, clients coming into NSC’s office are able to benefit from the ample produce that the entrepreneurial growers bring in each week: green onions, several varieties of kale, beets, collard greens, peppers, and so much more. By planting seedlings and providing this produce to the community through the farm stand, biodiversity in Philadelphia’s food systems is increased and gastronomic traditions from around the world are protected. In other words, the entrepreneurial growers are giving a true gift not only to the refugees served by NSC, but Philadelphia’s residents as well.
When so much is unfamiliar, when the language is new, the urban environment is so different, the people surrounding you are not your family and friends but strangers, it can be momentous to bite into a bitter African eggplant for the first time in months or years, to be able to bring that to your family and cook a familiar dish you haven’t cooked in so long. Not only do memories come flooding back, but your new home begins to feel a bit more like that – home.

 

Refugee Urban Agriculture Initiative Hosts First Farmer’s Market

refugee-urban-ag-farmers-market

In 2016, NSC and PHS, its refugee-garden program partner, launched an entrepreneurial garden and farmer-training pilot program. Housed at our Growing Together garden site in Point Breeze, key programmatic initiatives for this year include vetting crops, providing business-development training, and preparing refugee farmer’s for job readiness in the agricultural sector.

On June 29, NSC hosted our first farmers market in our lobby on Arch Street. During market hours, staff and NSC clients were able to purchase affordable, just-picked produce. All of the featured crops were grown locally by three of our refugee farmer-training participants. Carrots, beets, collard greens, green onions and kale were among the fresh-grown offerings.

We’re looking forward to seeing what fresh produce these farmers continue to bring throughout the summer! Stay tuned for more farmer’s-market dates.

–Jenn Hall, NSC Volunteer, Writer

Taste the Garden: Mustard Greens

Florida broadleaf mustard (brassica juncea)
AKA: Mustard greens, Indian mustard

mustard-greens.jpg

Mustard greens can be found simmering in pots across the globe. Believed to have originated near the Himalayas thousands of years ago, they’re grown in in most Nepali kitchen gardens and are eaten multiple times per week. Nepal is one of the leading producers of these greens.

A member of the brassica family – home to broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, among others – these peppery, pungent greens deliver a sharp bite, and come in a range of sizes and colors. The flavor can be mellowed through cooking, and they are well worth introducing as a kitchen staple.

Common Uses

  • Bhutan: In Bhutan, mustard greens take on a second life in the form of gundruk, a fermented product that is used throughout the non-growing season in soups, curries, and dhal (lentils).
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo: Greens are popular in African cooking, where they can be found in soups, stews, and many other dishes.
  • Nepal: The entire mustard plant is edible, and the seeds are used to make mustard oil a signature ingredient in Nepali cuisine. Nepali mustard greens, known as rayako saag, are often braised.

Details

  • Flavor notes: Mustard, pepper, a bit bitter
  • Growing season: Spring, fall
  • Harvest notes: The smaller the leaf, the milder the flavor

Recipes

–Jenn Hall, NSC Volunteer, Writer

Growing Together Expands

On May 22, during a brief dry window between May’s persistent bouts of rain, a group gathered at the Growing Together Garden on Reed Street with a mission: to add a new row of beds. With requests for growing space in continued high demand, this will allow an additional 20 families to join us in the garden.

Moving the beds, which were constructed during a prior workday with support from The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and volunteers from Keller Williams, was a team effort. The garden looks forward to welcoming its newest growers.

Spring-Greens-and-Marigolds              Mustard-Greens

In other news, spring mustard greens are taking over! These fast growers are especially popular in Nepali and Bhutanese cuisine, and our gardeners could be seen harvesting the early leaves in addition to other spring greens as they tended their plots.

–Jenn Hall, NSC Volunteer, Writer

‘Growing Together’ for Another Season

On the heels of a successful inaugural season, Growing Together Garden at 2500 Reed Street kicked off 2016 with back-to-back events the weekend of April 15. The project continues as a partnership between NSC, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and Church of the Redeemer Baptist, from which land for the garden has been leased. All three groups were in attendance to help start the year, joined by enthusiastic church members; refugees from Bhutan, Burma and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; a Nepali interpreter; and neighbors from Point Breeze.

On April 15, our first garden meeting was held at the Church of the Redeemer Baptist fellowship hall. Dozens of families signed up for one of 173 4′ x 10′ plots and received an overview of what to expect for 2016. Space is affordable at just $25, including growing space, seeds, water and shared tools. Demand remains high, and by the end of the weekend, a waiting list was already in place.  While listening to presentations from NSC and PHS, gardeners shared a meal of minestrone soup with grated Parmesan cheese and fresh apples, donated by Church of the Redeemer. The vegetarian meal was a huge hit, and after the formalities, the gardeners spent the remaining part of the evening sharing their experiences as they looked ahead to 2016.

Growing Together is a communal project in the true sense of the word. In addition to tending their individual plots, gardeners commit to attending at least four meetings per season, as well as providing ten hours of communal work in the garden’s shared space. Not only does this ensure that Growing Together remains a welcoming space for all. It provides an opportunity for people to get to know one another, share experiences and create community. Meetings and workdays will continue monthly through the fall.

First Growing Together Workday of the Year

To say that our gardeners were eager to kick off the year is an understatement. Well before the official start of the April 16 work day, families arrived excited to discover their plot assignments and get to work. In short order, they could be found clearing and preparing their gardens – topping off soil, pulling weeds, planting and covering their spaces with Agri-bond to keep young plants warm. PHS supplied the soil, materials to build new garden plots and seedlings.

Volunteers were also on hand to assist, including a group from the YMCA Y Achievers, who donated pretzels to the hardworking gardeners. Broad Street Ministry was also on site with a group of volunteers from the Union Theological Seminary in Virgina who were interested in learning what NSC does in order to do something similar. Their efforts clearing trash, filling new plots and pulling weeds were central to the day’s accomplishments.

Bringing People Together

Even as new garden neighbors are getting to know one another, a great deal of knowledge-sharing is already taking place. During the garden workday, more than one first-timer could be heard drawing on the insight of more experienced growers nearby.  This kind of connection is one of the most inspiring outcomes of Growing Together. As the season continues, we look forward to more community-building among the diverse Philadelphians who call this their garden home.

We welcome the Growing Together community, and look forward to another great season growing together.

–Jenn Hall, NSC Volunteer, Writer