Engaging Refugee Gardeners in the Fight for Food Justice20 Feb 2019, by AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, IRC, South King County, Washington Site in
Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA Hailey Baker serves at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a large international nonprofit organization that responds to the world’s humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. Specifically, Hailey serves in the IRC Seattle’s New Roots program, which works with refugee, immigrant, and other vulnerable communities in South King County to improve food access and community wellness. New Roots offers families and individuals space to grow their own food at four different community gardens, runs community programs (English classes, yoga, garden work parties), provides technical assistance to farmers, and gives newly-arrived refugees a grocery store orientation to get them situated in the U.S. food system.
At the IRC, equity and justice live at the forefront of our work, as we resettle refugees, asylees, and other immigrants in their new homes in the U.S. It is extremely important to empower clients with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed in a foreign land with its own local issues and inequities. On February 13th, despite the snow and the cold, three members of the New Roots team, including Hailey, took five Congolese and Kenyan refugee gardeners down to Portland for a conference titled “Farming While Black: Uprooting Racism, Seeding Poverty”. The conference brought together several POC farmers from the PNW (Portland and Seattle specifically) for an evening of education and discussion about black farming in this region and in a larger cultural context. The featured speaker was Amani Olugbala of Soul Fire Farm, a BIPOC-centered community farm in New York committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system. In addition, the event included a panel of three POC farmers: Rohn Amegatcher of Log Hollow Farms in Chehalis, WA, Edward “Eddie” Benote Hill of Seattle, and Melony Edwards of Willowood Farm on Whidbey Island, WA.
With the aid of interpretation, our farmers were able to listen to the speaker and panelists as they unpacked the issues of “food apartheid”, farming land stolen from Native American tribes, and the history of black oppression in the United States. The speakers were honest and brave in sharing their experiences as black farmers with a majority white audience, and they urged us to think about the land we farm and live on and learn about the people who farmed and lived on it before us. It was a truly powerful and heavy event, a crash-course in U.S. food justice for our refugee gardeners. After the main event, all of the POC farmers and attendees gathered in a separate room to meet and share space with like-minded people, which our gardeners joined.
The ultimate goal of bringing the gardeners to the conference was to root them in the issues of food justice in the U.S. and orient them to how black identity differs in this country as opposed to their own. Some concepts were difficult to convey through translation, but if nothing else the gardeners enjoyed traveling and being in a new environment. With this experience fresh in all of our minds, the New Roots team hopes to put more programming in place to support POC gardeners in the upcoming garden season.