It's so awesome to see what kinds of things are going on in my local area when it comes to gardening. I have a subscription to the local Sunday paper, and I dive to the Home and Garden section like a kid on Christmas morning each week to see what kinds of tips I might find, or what kinds of community projects might be going on.
This morning's article got me very excited! Apparently my city has a program called "Fresh Food Initiative", described as "a sustainable community agriculture project providing support for refugees to start and sustain gardens and farms." We have a very large population of Burmese refugees in our city: I read somewhere that our Burmese population is the largest in the nation. This program focuses on helping the refugees get access to the simple tools they need to grow some of their own food.
One of the experimental tools being shared? Plastic kiddie pools. Add drainage holes, add soil...voila, veggie containers.. Funny...I've had this SAME idea as a container but haven't put the idea to use yet.
I'll be following the project to see what success is had. Here is the article itself. Please read it! I am so inspired by this positive community-based project!
Fresh-food effort growing
Planting in pools new part of garden help for refugees
Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette
Photos by Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Volunteer Jeremy Heidenreich helps children, from left, Hasan Sha, Maung Gyi, Sa Naoh Lar and Be La Dee set up a plastic-pool garden.
Like a lot of other Fort Wayne residents, Ma Pae, 33, can’t wait to have fresh tomatoes this year.
She’s so eager, she’s growing them herself – with a little help from a program that helps refugees plant and raise fresh vegetables.
“Tomatoes are for many foods I cook,” says the native of Burma, now Myanmar, who came to Fort Wayne with her five children and a niece as a resettled refugee about three years ago.
“I cook them with fish. Sometimes we make salad. Sometimes cut,” she says, making a slicing motion with her hands.
On May 21, Pae was one of about 75 residents of the Autumn Woods apartment complex in southeast Fort Wayne who participated in an expanded Fresh Food Initiative.
Hollie Chaille, initiative coordinator, says it now has three parts. There’s still the community garden with 36 raised beds tended by refugees at Catherine Kasper Place, 2826 S. Calhoun St., formerly known as the Resource Center for Refugees.
New this year are plots of about an acre each at three Fort Wayne sites and container gardens for individual families at Autumn Woods, where a sizable number of Burmese refugees live.
The goal is to help refugee families with limited transportation and income get easier access to fresh food to maintain and improve their health, Chaille says.
“This is a population that is used to growing their own food. They’re agrarian by nature,” she says of the Burmese. “The idea is that you can step out your back door and harvest your dinner that you and your kids participated in growing.”
A walk through Autumn Woods on May 21 reveals that many refugee residents already are vigorous and resourceful gardeners.
Behind one group of brick apartment buildings, just beyond a chain-link fence and in a strip of land near a creek that provides a ready supply of water, several refugees have started garden plots. Some have neat rows of peppers and beans, while others have sprouted trellis-like structures made of lashed tree branches to hold vining plants such as gourds and squash.
Indeed, so many refugees were growing their own vegetables last year at Autumn Woods that it became something of a problem, Chaille says.
City code enforcement officials became concerned that plants were crossing boundary lines, climbing buildings and invading gutters – all of which could look untidy and pose a safety hazard, especially if the vegetation touched electrical wires.
“The apartment complex struggled with letting people garden,” she says. “You don’t want to discourage people from being self-sufficient.”
Given the situation, managers were “very supportive” this year of the expanded Fresh Food Initiative, Chaille says. She says the land now being independently cultivated behind the fence is not on the apartment complex’s property. But its ownership – and the fate of the gardens – is unclear, she says.
Plants in the pool
Originally, Chaille says, the initiative planned to build traditional raised beds out of timber. But when that proved costly and there were concerns about upkeep, they turned to the idea of using plastic kiddie pools as container gardens, drilling holes in the bottom for drainage and filling them with dirt.
About 100 volunteers from area churches and civic groups assisted with that May 21, and residents can now raise plants in the pools that are raising eyebrows, she says.
“I think it’s good … that we can show love to them,” says Pathway Community Church volunteer Morgan Book, 14, of Fort Wayne, while supervising several younger boys, many of them refugees’ children, who were shoveling dirt to fill a pool into a wheelbarrow.
Megan Distler, executive director of the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, an initiative partner, acknowledges the pools are a bit of an experiment. Research shows they have worked in other cities, she says.
“We’ll all watch through the summer to see how this turns out,” Distler says, adding that the initiative’s funding came from a $75,000 grant from the federal government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Refugee Agriculture Partnership Program. Several local groups, including the city of Fort Wayne, assisted, she says.
Pae, who now works at a sewing job at Vera Bradley, hopes to watch her tomatoes turn red. Pae says she was among those with a garden last year, growing cucumbers, peppers, beans and cilantro in a plot similar to ones refugees planted while they lived for years in camps in Thailand.
“Last year, we had to buy the plants and plant them. This year, I think it got easier,” she said smiling. “Everybody happy.”
Part of the Fresh Food Initiative is a plan for several refugees to start selling some of their produce at area farmers markets.
The refugees are taking classes in sustainable growing practices, including biointensive and organic farming methods, and some are working with area master gardeners, says Hollie Chaille, initiative coordinator.
She says most of the produce sold will be grown in large plots on privately owned donated land at St. Henry’s Catholic Church, 2929 E. Paulding Road; on Dupont Road; and on city-owned property near Victoria Acres on Fort Wayne’s southeast side.
The hope is that some of this year’s growers will be able to start small farms that will provide income and create jobs, Chaille says.
The farmers markets will be at Fort Wayne’s Unitarian Universalist Church, 5310 Old Mill Road, from noon to 2 p.m. June 26, July 10 and 24, Aug. 7 and 21 and Sept. 4 and 18.
The produce also will be available at a farmers market that accepts food stamps from 3 to 7 p.m. Aug. 12, Sept. 9 and Oct. 14 at Catherine Kasper Place, 2826 S. Calhoun St.
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