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Putting Down “New Roots” in Columbia

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On Monday, September 8, 2014 Refugee and Immigration Services – Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri teamed up with Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture and traveled to Kansas City, Kansas. As any true Mizzou fan knows, entering Kansas territory is not an activity that takes place without good reason, but our wonderful volunteers braved the “bad land” to visit New Roots for Refugees, a community refugee garden created from a collaboration of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and Cultivate Kansas City. After driving 130 miles (plus a few more lost in the twists and turns of the Kansas City roadways) the group finally spotted a farmers’ market in a church parking lot and knew they had arrived at their destination.

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New Roots provides refugees in the Kansas City area the opportunity to learn small business practices through growing and selling vegetables. Refugees attend training for months before they are accepted into the program and given land of their very own to farm. They are then shown how to sell their food at local farmers’ markets. Program staff provide guidance on how to invest, save, or spend the profits in smart ways. The refugees are able to feed their families healthy food while they work towards their ultimate goal of financial stability and independence. Recent graduates of the New Roots program have purchased land of their own and continue to farm as a way to provide for their families.The staff  from RIS and CCUA were exploring the opportunity of implementing a similar program right here in Columbia. They were able to tour the New Roots garden, ask questions about the program, and even shared in some delicious watermelon!

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RIS and CCUA have teamed up in the past to assist refugees in starting their own urban gardens and learning how to produce and prepare American vegetables through the Opportunity Garden (OG) program.  Many refugees in Columbia are already active Opportunity Gardeners, but CCUA is always accpecting new applicants. Refugees who are interested should stop by the office for an application, or can access the applicaiton online here. CCUA determines  the size of garden to create by the yard size, abilities, time, and need of the refugee family. Most gardens are fairly small at 4×10 ft, while others are even smaller and are only container gardens on porches and balconies. Regardless of the family situation, CCUA staff always find a unique way to bring gardening to peoples homes.

Through the OG program, not only do the refugees receive education on growing vegetables, but they also learn what to do with the food once they have it. Classes are given on how to can tomatoes, save seeds, and what to do about frost and clay when gardening (things common to Missouri but completely foreign to most refugees). Many refugees rely on their gardens to feed their families and some have even begun selling greens at their churches.

Tricia Woolbright, the Opportunity Garden Coordinator, is one of the employees of Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture who attended the trip to New Roots for Refugees. She likes how the refugees in KC sell their produce at farmers’ markets, although before something similar could take place in COMO, she would have to see if refugees have an interest in selling and if there would be a market for these crops in the community. Tricia believes that many refugee women who feel like they do not hold a significant place in the community will begin to feel like they are contributing more significantly to society and could benefit from the supplemental income that selling produce would bring.

A project as large as New Roots for Refugees would take awhile to become reality in Columbia, MO, but small changes made  to the refugee gardening programs already in place could be on the horizon. Through the support of the refugee and local community some New Roots may be sewn in Columbia sooner rather than later.

To learn more about the gardening projects already exisitng in Columbia please visit:

Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture: http://www.columbiaurbanag.org/ and

Community Garden Coalition: http://comogardens.org/

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