In 2005, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and Cultivate KC began a collaboration to support and train a group of Somali Bantu women about how to use their community garden plots to generate income through sales at farmers’ markets. Over time, our organizations began to develop a framework for supporting refugee farmers interested in managing larger plots of land and launching small farm businesses. In 2008, we broke ground at the Juniper Gardens Training Farm in Kansas City, Kansas, and the New Roots for Refugees four-year farmer training program had officially begun!
Since its start, the program has experienced growth and success, first and foremost through the innovation and hard work of the participating farmers, along with the input from our diverse and creative staff members. Today, 45 farming families have graduated from the program and 31 of those are still farming locally. It has also received overwhelming support from the community, generating more than $2 million in sales.
As we celebrate the program’s 15-year anniversary, we are excited to announce an expansion and name change from New Roots for Refugees to simply “New Roots.”
There are several key reasons for this change. The program’s initial goal was to support refugees with agricultural backgrounds and help them start local farm businesses. However, many current participants of the program are no longer refugees—they have become US citizens and do not have refugee status. Also, the longer former refugees live in their resettled country, they may cease to consider themselves refugees at all. Additionally, rather than label participants by their immigration status, we want to emphasize their skills and talents as farmers.
Another key component of past programming was offering language access and helping new American families overcome cultural barriers. We will continue to build on this by focusing predominantly on supporting not only refugees, but immigrants and English language learners.
Finally, our capacity has increased due to our growing base of graduate farmers and the creation of strong programming and staff. We plan to capitalize on this growth by expanding our services and building relationships in the surrounding and outlying communities. We will continue to offer community garden plots to anyone in the neighborhood. In addition, we are beginning to offer workshops and events to more of our neighbors in Northeast Kansas City, Kansas and beyond.
Our key program goals will remain:
- Develop a cross cultural and cross generational community
- Promote economic independence and financial empowerment
- Foster a sense of belonging and place
- Create opportunities for farm and farmer growth
- Improve the lives and health of participants and the broader community
We remain committed to:
- Language access and justice – everyone can communicate in the language they feel comfortable in
- A stair-step approach to self-sufficiency – providing substantial support in the beginning of the training program and less as farmers are empowered to take on more responsibility
- Cooperative, flexible and adaptive leadership—all participants and staff have a voice in decision-making
- Learner-centered education and technical assistance
- Sustainable, ecological and organic agricultural practices
- Community engagement
- Promoting land access through advocacy and farmer resources
- Farmer resources and infrastructure