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Filling in the Gaps: Building A Refugee Community Garden

21.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest VISTA, IRC, Volunteering, Washington Site

“Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA Hailey Baker serves at the International Rescue Committee in SeaTac, WA. The IRC helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. Hailey works with the New Roots program, a community garden and food access program within the IRC that helps individuals and families adjust to their new home through gardening, nutrition education, orientation to U.S. food systems, and youth leadership activities.”

A rainy morning greeted Harvest VISTA Hailey Baker on the morning of August 10th, a day destined to be dirty and tiring. She and her team at the International Rescue Committee had been putting in long hours at St. James Episcopal Church in Kent, WA, the site of the IRC’s newest refugee community garden. Over 600 feet of irrigation lines had been installed at the site the week before, and the open trenches in which they sat waited patiently to be refilled.

Hailey had organized one final work party to finish the trench refill, reaching out to the IRC’s long list of on-call volunteers to come out and help. When Hailey drove up to the site with a van full of tools at 9:30am, the rain was just starting to ease, the sun poking its way through the clouds inch by inch. She half expected the rain to scare away the 17 volunteers who had signed up to help.

She needn’t have worried. By quarter past 10am, 15 of the 17 volunteers had shown up, eager to work. They all grabbed shovels and pickaxes and jumped right in, slinging dirt from nearby piles into the gaping irrigation trenches. As they worked, they chatted and laughed, amazed at how much they all had in common. Stories of travel, jobs, hometowns, and politics floated around the site. Strangers only hours before, by the end of the work party everyone had made at least one new friend while toiling in the dirt. During the mid-day break, Hailey led the group over to a nearby patch of blackberry bushes, where some volunteers picked fresh blackberries for the very first time.

By the end of the work party, nearly all of the remaining open trenches had been filled. Hailey was pleased to see all the work they had put in, but she was even more pleased by the moment of community they had all shared that morning. How better to build a community garden than in community?

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Healing Gardens: Making the Namaste Community Garden Accessible to All

20.06.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, IRC, Washington Site

“Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA Hailey Baker serves at the International Rescue Committee in SeaTac, WA. The IRC helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. Hailey works with the New Roots program, a community garden and food access program within the IRC that helps individuals and families adjust to their new home through gardening, nutrition education, orientation to U.S. food systems, and youth leadership activities.”

The Namaste Community Garden in Tukwila, WA is a flurry of activity at this time of year. The growers, the majority of whom came to the U.S. as refugees from Bhutan, Nepal, and Burma, spend hours diligently digging, planting, weeding, and watering their plots.

One plot, usually bursting with life-giving food at this point in the season, sits overgrown and empty. Its keeper, a dedicated Bhutanese grower named Ram, recently lost both of his legs and is no longer able to garden. He still visits the garden often, riding his wheelchair along the main woodchipped path, but his inability to garden and connect with the land has left him feeling isolated.

At the same time, a group of ELL students at nearby Foster High School are hard at work on a big group project. The topic for the project is a wheelchair-accessible garden bed design. At the close of the project, the students presented their work to officials of the City of Tukwila, who were so impressed with the outcome that they pledged to make a donation to put the design into practice. Little did they know that a need for an ADA garden design was so close at hand.

With materials donated by community members and the City of Tukwila, New Roots and the Foster High students came together on June 6th and 7th to install permeable pavers and to construct two ADA-approved raised garden beds on the plot belonging to Ram. The pavers will allow his wheelchair to roll easily into the plot, and the raised beds will be tall enough for him to comfortably garden. The students, Foster High, and New Roots staff, and representatives from the City of Tukwila worked for several hours each day, doing everything from clearing space for the pavers to sawing wood planks for the beds.

Last week, Ram planted the first shoots of the season in the new raised beds. His wheelchair rolls easily over the pavers, and he can comfortably reach the soil in the bed from where he sits. The journey to healing has only just begun, but with his connection to the garden restored anything is possible.

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Welcome, Hailey!

08.01.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, IRC, Washington Site

Hailey Baker was born in New Jersey and moved five times within Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee before heading off to college in Arizona in 2014. She graduated from Arizona State University in May 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability and has continued her exploration of the world ever since. While she was in school she worked as an intern for a local farmers market and volunteered for a humanitarian organization at the Arizona-Mexico border, which set her up perfectly for her current AmeriCorps role. Before coming to Washington to serve as a Harvest Against Hunger VISTA she was working as a cellar hand at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in California, which solidified her interest in agriculture and working with diverse groups of people.

Hailey is serving in SeaTac, Washington as a Year 1 Harvest Against Hunger VISTA with the International Rescue Committee, an international refugee resettlement organization that supports newly-arrived refugees, asylees, and special immigrants get oriented to their new lives in the United States. Hailey works with the New Roots program, which connects refugees and other IRC clients to land to grow culturally-relevant food while educating about gardening and healthy eating. As a Year 1 VISTA, Hailey is helping New Roots build new processes from scratch, and her projects so far have included creating a Food Access Guide for IRC staff to use with food-insecure clients, coordinating and piloting grocery store tours for new arrivals, and creating data collection tools for the New Roots emergency food pantry.

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