Growing Home: Refugee Community Farm Project is a new project that will provide a space for recently resettled Bhutanese and Burmese refugees inSouth Philadelphiawith a place to garden as a community. The program seeks to improve refugee diets by providing nutritious produce indigenous to their ethnic backgrounds; offer refugees a therapeutic outdoor space in which to build community, reconnect to their agricultural roots and engage in regular exercise; and provide refugees with a steady food source and income to supplement their limited food budgets.
Our refugee clients first suggested the idea for this project and have continued to strongly voice their desire and need for a place to create their own farm. At a recent community meeting, one Bhutanese gentleman pleaded, “Please, Please, if you can help us start a garden, as soon as possible.” Neighborhood food scarcity, combined with malnutrition among refugees at the time of arrival, make it imperative that we work to ensure that vulnerable refugees have access to fresh produce. The program will create a set of culturally appropriate recipes that use our fresh garden produce, teach refugees how to budget their initial food stipends and beyond, provide them with technical organic gardening skills, teach nutrition lessons, process food for winter storage, and organize an annual harvest festival.
We will also train members in entrepreneurial gardening and will begin to sell excess produce. The purpose of the project is to provide recent refugees with the ability to produce healthy food for their families in the neighborhood in which they reside while also helping them to feel at home in anew cityand in an unfamiliar environment.
Since the mid-1970s, large numbers of refugees have been resettled inPhiladelphia. In the last five years, NSC’s arrival numbers have increased tenfold, from 45 to 450 per year. NSC has resettled at least 328 Burmese and 148 Bhutanese refugees inSouth Philadelphiasince 2007. Ethnic minorities forced out of Burma (including Karen, Chin, and Burman Muslims) have experienced traumatic events including forced labor and relocation, rape and the loss of family members. By the time they arrive in theUS, Burmese and Bhutanese refugees have typically spent many years living in refugee camps (up to 18 years) with limited access to health care, food, clean water, and basic hygiene.
Comprehensive health screenings conducted by our refugee clinics at Jefferson Family Medicine Associates (JFMA) and Nemours Pediatrics have revealed that 13% of Burmese and 32% of Bhutanese are “underweight” upon arrival (compared to 2% nationally). This confirms research conducted in refugee camps in Nepaldocumenting acute and chronic malnutrition among Bhutanese refugees.[i] Mirroring national trends, our refugee clinics are also finding a high prevalence of Vitamin B12 deficiency among Bhutanese patients. Refugees from Burma and Bhutan have experienced emotional trauma as a result of war, torture, displacement, and loss of loved ones and status, and we are seeing high rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, generalized anxiety and other mental health conditions among these populations.
While the Burmese and Bhutanese refugees have been successful in terms of employment and community integration, they are experiencing challenges with maintaining a healthy, nutritious and culturally-appropriate diet.
Growing Home: Refugee Community Farm Project will be located in South Philadelphia where NSC has resettled Burmese and Bhutanese refugees. In partnership with the City of Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation department and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, space for the garden has been tentatively secured at Emily Park at 7th and Emily Streets. Emily Park is a derelict community park that has gone uncared for. Up to ten additional vacant lots are being secured through the Department of Public Property. DPP is prepared to give us an urban garden agreement for these lots which are all located in the neighborhood.
The garden spaces will be cleared with refugee community volunteers and planting will begin by April. We will actively produce food from April until early December. Throughout the entire process we will honor and promote the refugees’ agricultural skills, while supporting them to adjust to this climate and urban conditions. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) has awarded us a grant through the City Harvest Growers Alliance. They will provide soil, lumber, harvest kits, organic fertilizers, plants, and other needed supplies to construct as many as 60 raised beds this spring.
Growing Home will focus on elders and caretakers with young children who are isolated at home. All gardeners will go through an orientation and be given a key to the site. Regular community hours will be established and gardeners will share collective responsibilities. The site will be closed after dusk. Community work days will be held biweekly. Our Farm Manager will hold additionally educational events throughout season on all aspects of organic, urban food production and be in the gardens at least 4 days per week. In the fall gardeners will glean produce from local farms and will process produce for winter storage. The culturally appropriate recipe book that uses our fresh garden produce will be distributed in October at the harvest festival.
NSC will regularly host events in the gardens central space at Emily Park. All of these events will be community focused and some will serve as educational platforms on nutrition, farming skills and budgeting. Periodically at these events, surveys, both formal and informal, will be given addressing their level of overall happiness and sense of community since having the garden as a part of their lives. Other events will be purely for entertainment and community engagement, such as outdoor movie screenings and picnics. Potential community partners, such as Farm to City, local civic associations and other community groups will be invited to these events to path the way for community integration and sustainability of the gardeners