Farmers and congregation members at Our Redeemer Lutheran haul dirt together for new raised garden beds.

By Sarah Goodall, Program Coordinator, Farm-Faith Project

Every spring, I tear up a bit more of my backyard to make room for an ever expanding garden. With the ground cover removed, I till the soil, plant seeds, and watch food form over the course of the summer. A day in the dirt is a good one. Growing up, gardening was one of the only ways to spend time with my mom. If I wanted to get a word in, I had to take the flats of flowers and lingering smells of fertilizer with it. If my mom and I were in the dirt, we were okay. We were rebuilding after all the hurt and fear that filled up both our lives had threatened to uproot us. The regrowth of our life was met by the budding plants that too were trying to survive against the elements. Gardening saved me.

Look closely around any urban area and you will most likely be met with the sight of a community garden. The rise of the foodie movement and the desire for locally and ethically produced products prompted a revitalization of something once very commonplace. At one point, cultivating the land was simply a matter of survival. If you needed food, you were in an unfamiliar land, and foraging the wrong thing could mean death, you grew your food, and you grew what you knew.

Community gardens bring people together. They provide affordable, unofficially organic food for families in the many areas deemed food deserts. Food deserts are defined as low-income areas where residents live more than one urban mile or 10 rural miles from a large grocer, contributing to endemic nutrition-based health issues. Four Farm-Faith garden sites are located in USDA defined food deserts.

The Farm-Faith Project provides recent refugees living in Saint Paul with free community garden space at six different East Side faith communities. In 2016, the project hosted one farmers market as well as 35 gardeners.

For the majority of my first summer as program coordinator, I wrestled with the idea that these gardens were not money makers; they were not allowing refugees to gain an economic foothold, a problem I made my uninformed mission to solve.

It was not until one day, taking pictures of the gardens, that I ran into Hasta, one of the refugee women I was meant to be serving. She was happy with her garden. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t going to make money. She was growing food for her family, but it meant even more than that.

Hasta is Lhotshampa, an ethnic minority of Nepalese decent that was expelled from southern Bhutan in the 1990s. After her and her family’s expulsion, she spent the next 16 years, a third of her life, in a Nepali refugee camp. For 16 years, she had very little control over what happened to her. She was torn from her country, but here, a place vastly different from her home, she could start to rebuild. She could grow the foods that would stir up memories of her agrarian childhood, the world that existed before upheaval. As her plants laid deep roots, she too could breathe, lay roots, and grow.

When you’ve lost control, or experienced an urgent threat to your survival, you need to commune with other living organisms, and fast. Community gardens are more than a culinary movement. They are more than a movement to combat hunger and health disparities. Community gardens are about survival and persistence in the face of the greatest adversity imaginable.

This summer, in addition to our 52 garden plots and one new garden site, the Farm-Faith Project is excited to introduce a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. The CSA will have five convenient pick-up locations. Not only does this CSA provide the opportunity for shareholders to receive 18 weeks of fresh produce, it helps support the entrepreneurial efforts of local Hmong farmers. The program has already brought in 20 shareholders and shows promise of more than doubling that number before the start of the CSA season.

To learn more about Farm-Faith Project, please contact:

Sarah Goodall
Program Coordinator, Farm-Faith Project