Daniel Nyamangah, originally from Kenya, is a leader in San Diego's Refugee Entrepreneurial Agriculture Program (REAP).
At the beginning of March, I volunteered with a group of Whole Foods Market team members at an International Rescue Committee (IRC) New Roots farm in Pauma Valley, California.
The IRC currently has New Roots farms in nearly a dozen cities across the United States. From San Diego to the South Bronx, from Seattle to Charlottesville, refugees are revitalizing urban spaces, sharing their homegrown crops at neighborhood farmers’ markets and helping to rebuild local food systems.
A year ago, the IRC partnered with the Pauma Band of Luiseno Indians to restore the historical working lands of "Pauma Tribal Farms" in Southern California. Now the Pauma Valley farm helps hundreds of resettled refugees get the tools and training they need in order to become self-reliant, integrated members of their new communities, while growing healthy and affordable food. The farm serves as a classroom and farmland incubator for refugee farming entrepreneurs from Uganda, Somalia, Iraq, Myanmar, Congo and Burundi.
An aspiring farmer herself, Susan Wattik cradles a chicken before addressing her Whole Foods Market colleagues.
On the farm, I met Khadijah, a Somali Bantu woman who fled her home country in the 1990s during the Somali Civil War. Khadijah and women like her were the impetus for the New Roots program. In 2006, they approached the IRC office in San Diego and asked for urban farmland to grow their vegetables like okra, chili peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and kale to feed their families their beloved Somali cuisine.
Their San Diego urban gardens were so successful that they’ve scaled up production and moved to the Pauma Valley incubator farm. The women have since formed a farming cooperative called the “Bahati Mamas” – Bahati meaning “lucky” in Somali. The Bahati Mamas currently grow peppermint sourced into Earnest Eats Dark Chocolate Mint bars (on sale in select Whole Foods Market stores!).
Despite being under the weather, Khadijah, seated, was eager to participate in the “farm raise” and grateful for assistance preparing her field at the Pauma Valley New Roots Farm.
Whole Foods Market team members, alongside those from Threads 4 Thought and IRC, helped with “farm raise” projects to build over-all infrastructure and support farmers’ plots. Over the course of the afternoon, our group repaired fences, prepared farm beds and constructed tables for greenhouses.
Want to join the effort? Learn more about the IRC by visiting their site and watching the New Roots video series. And starting this fall, Threads 4 Thought will launch an initiative to donate 10 percent revenue of a best-selling item to support to the New Roots program. The cozy shirt on your back could help grow the New Roots program across the country!
Eric Fleet, co-founder of Threads 4 Thought, speaks about the impact of the New Roots program.
What are your family’s roots? Do you have a favorite dish that highlights your family origins?