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Small Farms

Partnerships with Cooperative Extension Help Refugees Adjust to Their New Country

Nearly 3 million refugees have come to the United States since 1975, seeking protection from persecution and in search of freedom, peace, and opportunity for themselves and their families.  Many families have lived in refugee camps as long as 15 years.  Their backgrounds in small scale or subsistence agriculture contribute to an interest in growing vegetables and small scale farming in this country.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) provides grants that help refugees adjust to their new country. One such program, the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program (RAPP,) has provided grants to 10 organizations to take advantage of the demands for niche, specialty, and organic crops. Under this initiative, the Institute for Social and Economic Development (ISED) works with these organizations and other non-profit and faith-based organizations to help refugees engage in agriculture and food systems.  Technical and resource information is disseminated on the RAPP Listserv and posted on the ISED website under Refugee Agriculture Promotion.

Through public and private partnerships, RAPP provides refugee families with agricultural and food related resources and technical information consistent with their agrarian backgrounds. Such support results in rural and urban farming projects that support increased incomes, access to quality and familiar foods,  better physical and mental health, and integration into this society. 

Access to land and financing are major challenges for refugee families.  Community gardens are the most common form of agriculture for families that arrived recently. They generally begin on small tracts of land and grow produce for the use of their families and neighbors and/or to sell at farmers markets.  RAPP’s goal is to gradually increase the amount of land and production for these families with the idea that some will become independent farmers who will have the option to sell to other types of buyers, including restaurants and institutions.  

Learning new production and marketing approaches is another major challenge, made all the more difficult by language and cultural differences. A successful RAPP program relies on the development of effective partnerships with local organizations.  The following comments by RAPP coordinators highlight how important Cooperative Extension has been for RAPP grantees in many locations:

  • Katie Painter in Boise, ID: “I love my extensionist.  The one I primarily work with is Ariel Agenbroad, horticulture extension educator at the University of Idaho's Canyon County Extension.  Ariel answers all of our questions, and holds classes and workshops throughout the year.  These events give us an opportunity to learn about a variety of topics as well as to network with other Idaho farmers.”

  • Teena Hayden in Manchester, NH: “In New Hampshire, the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service's county agents recognized quickly that refugees are often experienced farmers who would benefit from access to community gardens in urban areas. It was through the generous efforts of extension that two of the three community gardens in Manchester were established, refugees and immigrants were recruited and welcomed, tools and seeds were acquired, and ethnic foods were grown for home consumption by low-income families.”

  • Tim Olorunfemi in Phoenix:  “The University of Arizona Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service has been of tremendous help to the refugee agriculture in Arizona through the New Roots Farm program of the International Rescue Committee. Two of the Cooperative Extension staff members serve in the New Roots Farm program advisory committee and have offered a great deal of technical assistance  in areas of production, pest management, and community integration of the refugee farmers. They have been of great resource to the refugee farmers.” 

  • Lauren Goldberg in Louisville, KY: “The University of Kentucky (KSU)/Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension Program has helped Kentucky’s Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program in many ways.  The UK Extension Service administers the community garden program in Jefferson County (Louisville).  One agent in particular, Denise Peterson, has been extremely helpful to Kentucky’s RAPP by providing community garden plots to refugee farmers for the past 3 years…. Kentucky State University Extension agents, specifically Marion Simon and Louie Rivers, have written Kentucky’s RAPP into the 2010 2501 Grant “Assisting Kentucky’s Socially Disadvantaged Farmers who Grow Vegetables to Improve their Production, Business, and Marketing Practices to Ensure a Safer Food Supply” …(and) have invited our participation in and provided free transportation to KSU’s extremely popular free monthly educational seminars, “The Third Thursday Things.” 

Cooperative Extension has provided valuable assistance to refugees and former refugees (persons who have obtained citizenship) in many other areas. In California, Richard Molinar, of the University of California's Small Farm Program, works with the immigrant and refugee farming community in the San Joaquin Valley. Many of his programs address the difficulty of access faced by refugee farmers who have little time to attend meetings, and who often face literacy and language problems. With Michael Yang, Richard offers technical assistance, helps find land, and provides farm planning classes, presented in various languages. He also presents a very popular bi-weekly Hmong radio broadcast offered late in the evening. Several useful publications were presented at the small farm conference, including a comprehensive 2007 Small Farm Resource Directory, a training resource guide in Hmong and English, and detailed costs of production and marketing of specialty niche crops.