Refugees planting new roots in Utah

Story by SCOTT FUNK

War. Persecution. Death. Three things that many people in other countries across the world have to face on a daily basis. They go through life living in their homeland in fear. They’re left with two options: Stay in the country and risk death, or flee for survival. Many choose to stay, but many choose to become refugees.

Aden Batar, director of immigration and refugee resettlement for Catholic Community Services and a Somali refugee himself, said, “Becoming a refugee is the most difficult process a human being can go through. When you’re in your country, you either face the hard condition of leaving, or you die. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it, but when you don’t have a choice, you just want a new place to survive.”

According to a letter to Gov. Gary Herbert included in the Utah Refugee Services Office 2016 report, 1,200 refugees have been resettled in Utah annually by the CCS and International Rescue Committee.

The refugees who are resettled in Utah can choose from different programs to help them adapt to a new culture. One option is the New Roots Program, organized and managed by the IRC.

The New Roots program has the moto: “The food is local. The story is global.” Its purpose, according to the website, is to “enable refugees to celebrate their heritage and nourish themselves and their neighbors by planting strong roots – literally – in their new communities.”

The program consists of three parts: Community Gardening, Micro-Training Farm Program and the Sunnyvale Farmers Market.

Community Gardening Program

This program is designed to help the emotional well-being of the refugees as they try to adjust to a new country, culture and way of life.

Central Park 1. Photo credit New Roots SLC

In this program, plots of land (approximately 14 feet by 20 feet for 100 total square feet) are reserved for local refugees and their families throughout the Salt Lake community to grow crops from their home country and to come together as a community. Alex Haas, community garden program coordinator, said it is their opportunity to not only work, but also to provide for their family while connecting with others who may come from the same circumstance. There are 15 different gardens throughout the valley that refugees have access to.

Also within this program, Haas said, is the opportunity to meet as a group to develop skills and become accustomed to the new society they are in. Within these adjustment groups refugees can discuss their feelings, learn skills such as how to deal with anger, stress, depression and ultimately become self-sustained as they build a new home.

“The purpose of our community gardening program and adjustment groups is to help refugees become self-sustaining moving forward,” Haas said.

He also said in a phone interview that the gardens are a way to remind refugees of home and that they give them “a sense of comfort, while they enjoy cultural foods, and while they build a community of wellness.”

Micro-Training Farm Program

The next step in the New Roots program is the farming aspect. After resettled refugees have participated in the community gardens for a year, they have an opportunity to work on larger plots of lands at the Redwood Road Micro-Training Farm, located at 3060 S. Lester St. in West Valley City, to continue their farming.

Local refugee farming at the Redwood Farm. Photo credit New Roots SLC

Jordan Bryant, manager of the IRC’s New Roots program, said in a phone interview that the farm is maintained by generous grants and donations. The farmers pay different amounts for seeds and plants from their heritage, and tools to grow them to bring their home to Utah.

Currently, Bryant said, there are about 33 farmers who are there on a constant basis. These farmers, each of whom were once strangers, develop a community with one another as they work together to grow and sell their crops at local farmer’s market.

Although it is not the main source of income for their families, the refugees rely on the farming as a source of income for their families. At the same time, they continue to develop relationships and friendships with the other refugees around them.

“It’s more than just a job,” Bryant said. “It’s that they gain access to their home and people to socialize with.”

Sunnyvale Farmers Market

Local refugees buying produce at the Sunnyvale Farmers Market. Photo credit New Roots SLC

The Sunnyvale Farmers Market, located at 4013 S. 700 West in Salt Lake City, gives the refugee farmers the opportunity to provide for their family by taking the food they grow and selling it.  It is also an opportunity to bring food from cultures around the world to the refugee community.

“The farmers market is a great opportunity for income,” Bryant said. “Although it’s not their main source of income, for some it does provide a substantial amount for their family. It also is a community benefit by providing food from the countries of the refugees that are in the community.”

Escaping persecution is a long journey. But after choosing to leave their home to survive, the New Roots program has given refugees the opportuntiy to bring a piece of their culture to Utah.