Cultivate Kansas City's Newsletter - June 2015
New Roots for Refugees Growing Up
By Meredith Walrafen, New Roots for Refugees program coordinator, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas
Having just reached the end of my first year coordinating the New Roots for Refugees program, and with Cultivate Kansas City celebrating its 10th anniversary, I've been thinking a lot about how New Roots has grown since it began more than eight years ago. We started with a small group of women growing in a community garden at Catholic Charities for their friends and families. This year, we have 16 farmers and their families growing on our eight-acre training farm, 10 graduate farmers growing on more than four and a half acres of owned or leased land across Kansas City, Kan., and more than 60 refugee families growing in three different refugee community gardens in the city.
The first year that New Roots for Refugees farmers sold produce at the Brookside Farmer’s Market, the six women in the program earned a combined total of over $12,500. In the six years following, farmers and graduates in the New Roots for Refugees program have sold more than $570,000 worth of fresh, local, sustainably-grown produce to Kansas City residents, many of whom are from low-income immigrant communities.
We’ve made such great progress and identified so much more potential. Over the past few months, with new staff in leadership roles, we’ve been able to examine the program with a fresh perspective and think critically about why and how we do certain things. Our ability to improve our curriculum is furthered by the fact that we now have three years of New Roots for Refugees graduates who farm independently.
Current graduates encounter similar challenges every year - such as filing sales taxes and ordering seeds online - and we’re learning how we can improve workshops to include activities that will prevent those same struggles for future graduates. Last December, our staff sat down with three current graduates, who had almost no computer experience, and spent three hours flipping through seed catalogues, talking about different plant varieties, and placing orders online. At the end of our taxes workshop a few months ago, farmers sat down in the computer lab at Catholic Charities and filed their own taxes online, while our staff supervised. Actions like these may seem small, but we’re confident that making these improvements early in the program will lead to even greater success in graduation.
While we’re working on ways to improve our basic program structure, we’re also dreaming of the future. One of the things I love about this program is being able to work closely with a small group of people over four years, and having the opportunity to get to know each family and help identify strengths in different people.
So many of the New Roots farmers have skill sets complementary to farming. Not only did many families in our program farm multiple acres of land in their home countries, but many of them owned or were involved in other businesses, including restaurants, grocery stores, tool and machinery maintenance, and delivery services. With the increase in urban food production happening in Kansas City, particularly in immigrant communities, we’re excited to see how those skills might be put to use in our burgeoning local food economy.
We’re constantly talking with farmers about their dreams for the future and assessing how New Roots for Refugees can help make those dreams a reality. Keep an eye on New Roots for Refugees farmers to see how they transform Kansas City’s local food system over the next decade.