We Plant a Seed, We Grow Our Future

Larry Laverentz on Refugee Farmers in the United States – Published on nourishing the planet, by Victoria Russo, December 6, 2012.

In November 2012, Nourishing the Planet’s Victoria Russo spoke with Larry Laverentz, a program manager with the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program RAPP, about his efforts to educate and support refugee farmers in the United States … //

… How was the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program created?  

What sorts of challenges do refugees face when they come to the United States and try to make a living through agriculture? … //

… What strategies does RAPP use to break down these barriers and help refugees?

  • RAPP aims to educate and assist refugees in areas where they did not have previous experience. Each project uses grant funding to hire a garden coordinator, recruit volunteers, access land and supplies, and assess projects. In the first year, the team will typically build an incubator training farm, focused on intensive production tied to marketing. Perhaps after the first year the project will grow, and refugees will be able to expand or even start their own small farms. In conjunction with the farms, we teach classes on record-keeping and financial literacy, invite guests such as master gardeners to come speak, or coordinate ESL courses structured toward agricultural vocabulary. We try to give them the tools they need to grow their businesses.

Are most of the program participants experienced farmers, or are they new to agriculture? … //

… In what ways does farming help refugees maintain other aspects of their culture?

  • Not all refugee farmers are involved with the aim of becoming full-time farmers. While the project can help them create a supplemental and sustainable income, many are involved for other reasons. They are able to bring familiar and more-nutritious foods home to their families, which gives the adults a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. Agriculture is often tied to their cultural events such as festivals, and ties them back to what they were doing in their country of origin. Farming gives them a reason to get out of the apartment and do something with which they are familiar, and it is often beneficial for their mental health. Typically, the children are enrolled in school and thus learn English first and become the spokesperson for the family, so it is important for the adults to get recognition as vital family members. As one refugee farmer comments, “It’s my own piece of the universe.”

How does the agricultural knowledge that refugees bring to the United States contribute to building a stronger food system domestically? … //

… What do you envision for the future of RAPP?

  • We see our project as consistent with what is happening in the broader context of society. Refugees are often resettled into food deserts, where their only options are unhealthy foods. We try to involve them in the broader food movement by working with institutions to expand their market options. Restaurants and grocery stores like to be able to sell local produce. Infrastructure is often limited for small-scale farmers, and we aim to help them understand when to harvest, methods of storage, and delivery transportation.
  • Ultimately, we would like to obtain additional funding to meet the demand for the project across the country. We are lucky to have a large national listserv that allows us to share information and resources, and we are looking to expand that network. Refugee farmers in the United States often face similar challenges to farmers in developing countries, and we are looking to expand this program to overseas refugee camps so that the program may be mutually supportive domestically and internationally. While we face similar challenges, we hope to take advantage of our common opportunities. As one refugee states, “We plant a seed, we grow our future.”

(full text and links to similar posts).

(Victoria Russo is a research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project);

Dr. Hugh Joseph of Tufts University.

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