Since 1988, Vermont has settled almost 7,500 refugees in Chittenden County, with the largest numbers arriving from Bhutan, Vietnam, Bosnia, and Somalia (VT SRC, 2017). This number continues to grow by approximately 350 refugees per year, the majority of whom are placed in the cities of Burlington and Winooski. Many of these “New Americans” come from agrarian backgrounds, meaning farming is central to their culture and way of life.
The Association of Africans Living in Vermont [AALV], a local Burlington non-profit, was founded in 2003 with the purpose of bringing the local African community together and ease the transition of adjusting to American culture (Nickerson, 2010). In 2009, however, AALV decided to extend their services to all refugee and immigrant communities in Vermont (ibid). They assisted over 300 refugee households from around a dozen African, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries in 2015 alone (“AALV”, n.d.). In addition to a number of programs that deal with integration, community networking, social support, and translation services, a primary focus of AALV is workforce development and job placement for the immigrant and refugee population (ibid). In particular, AALV offers two workforce development programs. The first is a training class for aspiring Home Health Aides and Licensed Nurses Assistants, and the second and focus of this study is the New Farms for New Americans program.
The New Farms for New Americans program, operating through AALV, works to reconnect local refugees with their agricultural experience and provide access to fresh foods popular in their culture’s diet. This program also increases food security among participants, as they have the means to grow their own crops rather than spending money at the grocery store (Bose & Laramee, 2011). While the program was initially managed by the former program specialist Josie Weldon, Alisha Laramee has led NFNA since 2013. During Ms. Laramee’s tenure, the program has started to shift its focus and goals to match the shifting needs and desires expressed by participants.
New Farms for New Americans began in 2008 as a workforce development program, at a time when the majority of refugees in Vermont came from several African countries (Laramee, 2014). AALV’s microbusiness development programs worked to empower these new arrivals to become self-sufficient and build a sustainable life for themselves in Chittenden County. However, it became evident that the majority of women in these refugee groups were not participating in these programs and staying at home, which AALV saw as magnifying the sense of isolation for these women (Bose, 2013). With this in mind, AALV developed the New Farms for New Americans program as a way to build on the skills and knowledge these individuals already possessed to not only provide fresh, culturally appropriate foods but also build social inclusion and provide new opportunities for these women (A.T. Fence, 2013).
The first participants were a group of 15 African refugees consisting of 12 Somali and 3 Burundian women (Laramee, 2016). The goal was to provide people with the training they need to become independent farmers through a three-tiered system (Bose & Laramee, 2011):
Community gardeners: focused on growing food for individual and family use, as well as familiarizing participants with the local crops and Vermont’s growing season (ibid).
Market gardeners: the bulk of the program focused on this aspect of the program in which participants were provided training and classes designed to help them become commercial farmers (ibid)
Independent farmers: the ultimate goal of the program was to develop farmers who could be largely self-sustaining and participate in local agricultural markets and create their own businesses (ibid)
Participation grew from a group of 15 to 25 the second year to 100 by the third year. By the fourth year, it became clear that not everyone participating in the program had a desire to become market gardeners or independent farmers running their own businesses, and preferred to remain instead in the community gardening aspect of the program (Laramee, 2016). Since the start of the program, the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement [ORR]’s Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program [RAPP] has provided funding through two competitive five-year grants. The primary emphasis of these grants has been employment, which led AALV to originally structure the NFNA program using a three-tiered system designed to produce commercial farmers at its conclusion. However, as noted previously, this is not the same goal that many participants in the program share who instead wish to grow produce (and culturally familiar crops) for their own families, neighbors, and friends (ibid).
Program Activities through the years
CSA (Community Supported Agriculture): Focused on baskets of produce and prepared foods, along with recipes for preparing certain crops that are less known in Vermont to participating residents around the community. This was operated by the market gardeners (2nd tier). (No longer part of the program) (Bose, 2013)
Farmstand: The program received a grant during the summer of 2011 to operate a small farm stand on King St. in Burlington’s South End. (Not operating in 2017).
Farmers Market: Participants of NFNA can sell their produce at the three local farmers markets, Burlington’s Old North End, Burlington’s New North End, and Winooski’s town farmers market (Laramee, 2016).
Training and Education: Focused on farm management, budgeting, food safety, English language classes, familiarity with local crops and growing conditions among other educational activities. Partnering with the University of Vermont’s extension program, they also offered a series of workshops in 2015 that covered soil amendments, season extension techniques, bugs, diseases etc., and offered 1 on 1 work with farmers on running their own businesses (ibid).
While the three-tiered system was implemented to match grant requirements, NFNA has shifted their model to focus more on community gardening to reflect participant interest and desires for the program. NFNA now primarily offers access to land through the oversight of two gardening sites that equal roughly 7.5 acres (ibid). Rather than the tiered system, they now give participants the opportunity to grow their own food or to sell their own crops as they please. Of the roughly 100 farmers participating in NFNA, only 5 sell their produce, while the rest choose to only grow fresh crops for their family and friends (Laramee, 2016).
4.5 acres of their land is located at the Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington’s New North End. Most of the participants here, approximately 50% of whom are Bhutanese, work with 1/8 acre plots costing $100 per season (ibid). One farmer, however, Janine Ndagijimana of Burundi, occupies about half of the 3.5 acres at this location to grow African Eggplants, which she sells locally. The farmland is generally clustered by ethnicity of the farmers, as result of participants’ requests and facilitating interpretation services as efficiently as possible. You can identify where the farmers of specific plots are from based on the crops that are in their garden. For example, the Burmese farmers tend to significant amounts of Roselle, while African corn and amaranth fields are indicative of African farmers, and the Bhutanese gardens are usually full of mustard greens (ibid).
The other farm is located at Burlington’s Intervale, which is roughly 3 acres. Six farmers, four of whom farm commercially, work the NFNA land at the Intervale (ibid) There also was a greenhouse at this location, but NFNA is unsure whether they will be able to retain this for the coming 2017 growing season, leaving many farmers even more limited by the short Vermont growing season.
NFNA’s annual budget can range from as low as $40,000 to as high as $98,000 from year to year (Laramee, 2016). This is because there is so much variability in applying for grants and relying on private funding to orchestrate a program such as this. Some of the grants NFNA has received over the years include; The Refugee Agriculture Partnership Program (RAPP) from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program from the US Department of Agriculture, and the Local Food Market Development from the VT Agency of Agriculture. Some of these grants were for 1 year while others have been for up to five years in length (ibid).
NFNA has recently received a three-year grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement that matches NFNA’s goals more so than the last grant received from ORR, which led them to develop the three-tiered system focused on fostering independent farmers. In the case of the newly acquired grant, it matched NFNA’s own vision of the program, rather than having to adjust the program to the grant requirements. This grant will allow them to measure the success of the program from indicators such as the amount of produce a farmer takes home, the organic and local qualities of the crops grown, and the physical and mental health benefits that this program offers to its participants. These are all qualities NFNA believes are of equal or greater importance than measuring success only by the revenue gained from participants selling their produce (ibid).
Roselle: Very popular among the Burmese community, who use the greens in several common Burmese dishes. The flower of the Roselle plant is also used among other African groups to make tea (Daniels & Lindholm, 2015).
Rice: Led by Bhutanese farmers, NFNA began rice farming in 2013 at the Intervale. In Bhutan, rice farming was a community activity for many of these farmers, and this pilot project in Burlington carried on the community aspect in planting and harvesting the rice. Learn more about the first rice paddy in Chittenden County at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1gn_-GyrQU
Amaranth Greens: Otherwise known as Langa Langa or Palange to some of the farmers. These spinach-like greens are found across all groups in most plots around the farm (Laramee, 2016).
African Eggplant: Green eggplant popular with the African community and also the Bhutanese. Janine Ndagijimana grows African eggplants on over a third of an acre, a space much larger than most farmers in the program. She grows three different varieties that are found in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, and Nigeria. She hopes to support her family with five children from the income of selling her crops. (McCollum, 2014). She tends a monocrop of over 2,000 eggplants per year
Daikon Radish: Not unfamiliar to Vermont prior to NFNA, but also popular among the Bhutanese farmers who brought less common preservation techniques of pickling and drying (Laramee, 2016).
Bitter Melon: Very common among the Bhutanese community and is incredibly bitter. A common way to prepare it is to wash and cut into thin slices, cook with olive oil and salt and some spices and fry it. Its medical value includes decreasing blood sugar.
African Corn: Grows easier than sweet corn, but is less sweet (Daniels & Lindholm, 2015).
Mustard Greens: Often found in the gardens of Bhutanese farmers, who dry the stem and leaves in the sun, put them into a container until it turns sour and yellow, then dry them in the sun again until it is crunchy. Use these greens and preserved radishes for what one refugee said is the “national curry of Nepal” (McCollum, 2014).
Snake Gourd: A type of squash that grows around 2 ft long. Commonly used in curry and soups.
- A lot of amaranth and mustard greens grown through NFNA are found in the local ethnic food stores in Burlington’s Old North End and Winooski. This is largely because amaranth and mustard greens grow much like a weed, and therefore farmers who are only growing for their own families will still produce extra (Laramee, 2016).
- Some produce is sold at the local farmer’s markets
- Different markets, cafes, and restaurants will use some of the crops grown by participants as well. These businesses include:
- Butch & Babe’s (http://butchandbabes.com/)
- City Market (https://www.citymarket.coop/)
- Stone Soup (http://www.stonesoupvt.com/index.html)
- Harvest Café at the UVM Hospital (https://www.uvmhealth.org/medcenter/Pages/Departments-and-Programs/Dining-Services.aspx)
- Intervale Food Hub (https://www.intervalefoodhub.com/)
- There are also side sales some participants make to buyers in different states, many of whom cannot buy the culturally significant crops that NFNA has fostered. One example of this would be the seedlings of African Eggplants (Laramee, 2016).
- Work with around 100 farmers each year (Laramee, 2016)
- A little over 50% are Bhutanese
- The rest is made up mostly of Somali and Burundi farmers
- 4 Burmese farmers
- The 2015 end of year survey, reported that farmers who leased $25.00 plots saved an estimated $835.0 and fed 7-9 people. Farmers who spent $100.00 saved $3,000.00 (Laramee, 2015)
- During 2015, farmers and gardeners produced an estimated 7 tons (14,000 pounds) of fresh, healthy and organic food (ibid)
- Farmers cultivating on 1/8th of an acre report saving up to $3,000.00 on food costs every year; feeding an average of 15 people (ibid)
- Over the years, about 13 or 14 people moved on to become independent farmers, but only about 5 are currently still operating their own farming operation (Laramee, 2016)
- $100= 1/8th of an acre
- $50= 1/16th of an acre
- $25= 1/32 of an acre
Communication: Program Specialist Alisha Laramee has identified communication as the most significant challenge to this program since its inception. The majority of participants speak little to no English, so she cannot email, call or text any farmers to deliver a message. Instead, she has to relay the message to an interpreter who then has to relay the message to the farmer, which makes organizing work days, registration, workshops etc. much more difficult and time-consuming (ibid).
Changing Populations: From 2008-2017, the biggest group resettled in Chittenden County were the Bhutanese (over 2000 settled in the area) (VT SRC, 2017). With this new group came new food tastes and desires for what they want to farm compared to some of the African groups. This also creates uncertainty going into the future as it is unknown where the next groups of refugees settled in the area will come from, and what interests and knowledge they will bring with them (Laramee, 2016).
Changing Participant Goals: There is a clear interest in moving toward more of a community gardening program. Economic benefits are not the major driver for participants as it was thought to be at the start of the program. Most participants are not generating much revenue, but are taking home fresh, culturally significant produce (ibid).
Transportation: There is not adequate public transportation to the farming sites, which makes it very difficult for the participants to commute their gardens. NFNA does offer a van service, but it is limited in addressing the needs of all participants. Many farmers rely on their family members to give them rides around their working schedules (ibid).
Funding: As is the case with most non-profit operated programs, future funding remains uncertain. Different grants come with different requirements, budgets vary from year to year, every grant is temporary etc (ibid).
NFNA is an annually evolving program that adjusts its goals and activities based on some of the perennial variables that can dictate what is and is not possible. There is a clear direction of shifting the program to be more community garden centered, with the most fundamental goal of providing land to people whom may otherwise never get the chance to attempt farming in their new home. In providing land, NFNA hopes to foster healthier diets, improved mental and physical health, and community integration (Laramee, 2015).
- UVM Extension
- Burlington Area Community Gardens
- Vermont Community Garden Network
- Winooski Valley Park District
- Intervale Center
- Office of Refugee Resettlement
- Powell Family Foundation
- Red Wagon Plants
- Green Mountain Compost
- City Market Coop
“AALV.” AALV Inc. AALV, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2017. http://www.aalv-vt.org/
Bose, P., & Laramee, A. (2011). “Taste of home: Migration, food and belonging in a changing Vermont”. Opportunities for Agriculture Working Paper Series, 2(4), . Retrieved from http://spatializingmigration.net/additional-information-and-documents/articles-chapters/
Laramee, A. (2016). New Farms for New American’s Questionnaire. Refugees in Vermont Project.
Laramee, A. (2015). New Farms for New Americans Program Report 2015. AALV Inc.
Laramee, A. (2014). New Farms for New Americans Program Report 2014. AALV Inc.
Lindholm, J., Daniels, P., & Laramee, A. (2015, April 10). New UVM booklet teaches growing, preserving African and Asian crops. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from VPR, http://digital.vpr.net/post/new-uvm-booklet-teaches-growing-preserving-african-and-asian-crops#stream/0
McCullum, A. (2014, August 31). Gardeners Raise Hard-to-Find International Veggies. Burlington Free Press. Retrieved from http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/local/2014/08/30/gardeners-raise-hard-find-international-veggies/14818227/
Nickerson, G. (2010, June 1). New to America, Old Hands at Agriculture. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from Vermont’s Local Banquet, http://localbanquet.com/stories/on-the-farm/item/new-to-america-old-hands-at-agriculture
RETN, Bose, P., & Teresa, M. (2013, October 30). Eating far from home: Migrant Foodways in Vermont Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqyN8YykjVo
UVM Extension [A.T. Fence]. (2013, November 13). Growing Rice in Vermont: New farms for New Americans on Across the Fence [WCAX]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1gn_-GyrQU
Vermont State Refugee Coordinator (2017). Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.
New Farms for New Americans (NFNA) is a program that provides subsistence size plots of land to participants to increase food security among immigrants and refugees. NFNA manages over six acres of farmland, provides workshops on the specifics of farming in Vermont, and helps farmers to overcome the barriers that may otherwise prevent them from receiving farming and gardening technical skills.
NFNA Rice Harvest