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African Women Organically Grow a New Life with Gardening in the US

Organic gardening and subsistence farming bring food security, and community strength to US immigrants.

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Organic can be a "certified" approach, or a homegrown method of using as many organic practices as possible. That second strategy has a much larger impact on a nation's food supply.  Families can grow organic produce in a barrel or a backyard garden, in an aquaponics system, or a hydroponics system.  What matters most is that they learn what makes up their food security system -- both for quantity and quality. 
 
Subsistence farming is a very "organic" approach to food production and we have a lot to learn from immigrants to the US from countries where everyone kept a garden.  They used natural materials and methods to enhance the quality of their soil and adapt to local ecologies such as average rainfall, soil type and native or regionally adapted plants.  Those are all "green chemistry" basics. 
 
An example of bringing their hopes and knowledge to the US is a group of immigrants in the Atlanta region who were brought here, stripped of their heritage as farmers and gardeners and put to work in a factory.  But with some help, they are growing a better future for themselves and their families in the sustainable farming, local food sector of our urban economy.

African Gardeners in Atlanta, GA

Many of the two dozen women harvesting squash and tomatoes in a small urban garden near Atlanta have farming in their genes. But their lives, and their crops, have changed dramatically since they left central Africa. Three years ago, the United Nations resettled some Burundian families in the Atlanta area.
 
“These women couldn’t imagine being anything but farmers. So imagine living here in a strip mall corridor,” says Susan Pavlin of Refugee Family Services. Seasoned in both refugee issues and the sustainable food movement, she helped create something familiar for them: a community garden.
 
“It’s an opportunity to build on cultural traditions, pass down farming knowledge to a new generation, and also address some food security issues,” says Pavlin, project manager of the garden.
 
Developers of East Decatur Station provided the 3/4-acre garden plot in the city of Decatur, where the new residents broke ground in the spring of this year. Soon the land was covered with green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, okra, basil and corn. Some local farmers have donated seeds, and the women are trying to use as many organic practices as possible.      
 

National Farming Resource for New Americans

 
The National Immigrant Farming Initiative, known as NIFI, assists other refugee farmers, immigrants and farm workers across the United States. Much of their support comes from Heifer International.
 
Executive director Mapy Alvarez says the organization has helped West African farmers in Maryland, Hmong farmers in Minnesota, and Sikh farmers in California.
 
“The idea is to help support full-time farmers. We help projects get off the ground,” says Alvarez, with workshops, and grants from the Department of Agriculture. The group also helps new U.S. residents get access to farmland.
 
 


Edited by Carolyn Allen, Managing Editor of Solutions For Green

Publication Date: 9/1/2010
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