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Refugees Bring Farming Skills to American Communities

Refugee farmer Dhan Subba sells the vegetables that he grows. (VOA)
Refugee farmer Dhan Subba sells the vegetables that he grows. (VOA)
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A non-profit aid group estimates more than half of the refugees who are resettled in the U.S. each year come from agricultural backgrounds. These refugees bring valuable farming skills as they rebuild their lives in their new communities.

VOA News spoke with some of the refugee farmers who are planting new roots in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Dhan Subba is a farmer and refugee from Bhutan. During the growing season, he and others clean and sort the variety of vegetables that they harvest.

“I like to work on the farm because I can grow my own food and eat healthily,” he said.

Subba lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for 18 years before the U.S. resettled him six years ago. He is glad that he can use the farming skills that he learned in Nepal.

Subba and other refugees from all over the world are joining the New Roots program of the non-profit International Rescue Committee, or IRC. The program uses empty lots in cities for farming.

The New Roots program began 10 years ago in San Diego, California. It has since spread to more than 20 cities across the country, including Charlottesville, Virginia.

Brooke Ray is the New Roots manager in Charlottesville. She told VOA News that the program offers many opportunities.

“New Roots really has a lot of different parts. First and foremost, it’s a chance for people to use the skills that they’ve already had in gardening and farming. But it’s also a chance for people to meet their neighbors and interact with the community and bring home healthy food.”

These farmers grow many kinds of produce. Some of this produce is common in their home countries, but not familiar to the American market.

As part of its New Roots program, IRC offers the Micro Producer Academy. At the academy, refugees can learn sustainable farming and small business skills, which can be another source of income.

Refugee farmers gather vegetables that they have grown. (VOA)
Refugee farmers gather vegetables that they have grown. (VOA)

Brooke Ray explains that these farmers usually have to adapt to new ways of farming.

“What we do there is take the skills and knowledge that everybody has and talk about how to apply it to the U.S. A lot of people have grown in very big space, and here you have to grow on very small space. We also talk about marketing, and pricing, and the seasons in the U.S.”

The refugees sell their produce directly to local restaurants.

Adam Spaar is a chef at a local restaurant. He says that the refugee’s produce is excellent.

“Their produce is exceptional. You can tell that they spend a lot of time, a lot of care, a lot of love goes into whatever they grow...”

The refugee farmers also convert empty lots into a lively, weekly market where neighbors with limited incomes -- especially refugees -- can buy fresh produce at low prices.

But they are not the only customers. Jane Ray buys food at the market:

"Well, I come every week. The vegetables are beautiful and freshly picked. And I have lots of recipes to use for them, and the prices are extremely reasonable.”

The refugee farmers may not be able to quit their jobs to farm full-time, Brooke Ray says. But the program is helping them build strong roots in their new communities.

I'm Alice Bryant.

June Soh reported this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

background - n. the experiences, knowledge, education, etc., in a person's past

plant roots / build roots - expression. to do things that show that you want to stay in a place, for example making friends or buying a home

variety - n. a number or collection of different things or people

lot - n. a small piece of land that is or could be used for building something or for some other purpose

acre - n. a measure of land area in the U.S. and Britain that equals 4,840 square yards

produce - n. fresh fruits and vegetables

adapt - v. to change (something) so that it functions better or is better suited for a purpose

micro - adj. very small

chef - n. a professional cook who usually supervises a kitchen in a restaurant

convert - v. to change (something) into a different form or so that it can be used in a different way