Lin Lin Nwye is a second-year farmer at Cultivate KC’s Juniper Gardens Training Farm.
Lin Lin, who recently obtainer her Certificate of Naturalization in October, explains that in her home country, names are chosen because they embody a certain spirit or “feeling of brightness.” The sound and repetition is very important. Her parents felt that Lin Lin invoked a certain happiness.
Lin Lin and her husband arrived in America in July 2009 after leaving Myanmar because of persecution of certain ethnic and religious groups. Lin Lin hopes to stay in the U.S. not for her own sake, but for those of her two sons and daughter, ages 9,7 and 5, respectively, who were born in the United States.
“This is their home,” Lin Lin said.
It was because of her children that Lin Lin enrolled in the New Roots for Refugees program at Juniper Gardens Training Farm. The four-year program is a partnership between Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and Cultivate KC that trains refugees to become independent business farmers.
In the first year of the program participants’ supplies and land are provided by the two agencies. The amount of financial assistance decreases each year so that by the fourth year, farmers are paying for their own straw and seeds. Farmers manage a quarter-acre plot at Juniper Gardens, while receiving farm training from Cultivate KC staff.
Being a farmer is challenging, but is a career that affords Lin Lin a kind of work-life balance. Her husband works full time at a hotel, so farming allows her to have a career with more flexible hours while also watching her children, making money and providing food for her family.
“I don’t have the ability to do another job,” she said. Like many program participants, growing food is in her family history. Her parents also farmed and kept livestock.
The work is hard but not challenging at Juniper Gardens, she says, because she knows there are people there to help. The small plot is good, but she looks forward to having more land, as she has seen many graduate farmers acquire, to grow her business.
Her children have learned a lot about where fresh food comes from, though they are too young to be helpful on the farm.
“They were surprised by carrots in the ground,” she laughs.
Although Lin Lin does not expect her children to become farmers like her, she is proud of her work. She recalls her first visit to the Lawrence farmers market, when she put up the “New Roots for Refugees” sign. She remembers how surprised everyone was that she had come from so far away to live in the Midwest. She explained to customers that her vegetables didn’t come from Myanmar, but were locally grown in Kansas City.
“I was really happy when they bought my vegetables,” she said. “They looked so good and I know they tasted good.”
A donation to Cultivate KC goes to supporting Juniper Gardens and its staff to continue training future farmers like Lin Lin.