for Churches – gardening with refugees

Community efforts bringing residents and refugees together

why refugee church gardens?

Downloadable Brochure: Church Refugee Gardens Brochure

Refugees traveling to Minnesota, both as primary and secondary arrivals, travel with hope.  Hope of finding community, hope of finding security, and hope of finding opportunity to achieve their dreams.  Meanwhile, refugees arriving to Minnesota today are less likely to be socially connected, they are more likely to have physical and mental health conditions, they are entering the United States at a time when there are overall less economic opportunities and are being resettled into poverty.

It takes a community to truly resettle a refugee.  Local refugee resettlement agencies such as World Relief Minnesota strive to mobilize community partners in this process by utilizing congregations and volunteers to provide social support to families upon arrival.  While an asset, what is lacking in the community are ongoing opportunities for local integration with the people who are their neighbors.  While refugees learn quickly to navigate benefit systems and supports, required to meet their basic needs, their human needs for socialization, belonging, and physical and mental health are too often overlooked.

Newly arrived refugee groups like the Karen, Bhutanese, and Somalis tend to congregate in neighborhoods based on housing affordability and the desire to be with others from their culture. While there are benefits to living in proximity to others of the same culture, in some cases this has led to a sort of cultural isolation for the refugee community within the larger community.  With struggling communities relying solely on support from within their cultural group “mainstream” community resources are overlooked and refugees do not become fully engaged in the “mainstream” communities in which they reside.  In Minnesota, we have seen that without that connection in their community that is outside of their ethnic group, a feeling of safety has been difficult to achieve.  This contributes to the fear and isolation that is characteristic of newly arrived populations.

Meanwhile, the skills and experience these populations bring with them are not being utilized.  Many of the main refugee groups being resettled to Minnesota, the Somalis, Karen,  Bhutanese, and others have long traditions of being agriculturalists. They come from agrarian societies and still have a deep attachment to the land, desire for self-sufficiency through food production, and cultural identification with gardening.  While their intuitive sense of the land and food production is good, many of these groups are now landless, living in crowded urban apartments.  They need space to garden, as well as training related to agriculture in northern temperate climate zones and specific to gardening practices utilized in growing and marketing vegetables in Minnesota to meet the growing demand for locally grown food.

Churches, by providing gardening plots and coming alongside their refugee neighbors in gardening projects, play a vital role in enabling refugees to break out of isolation, be engaged in physical activity, and grow fresh and nutritious food for their families and communities. This can provide a huge psychological and economic lift to refugees.

refugee church gardens

Over the past several years, World Relief Minnesota has been involved in several refugee gardening initiatives, and has been awarded a 3-year grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement to provide training for Karen farmers (in collaboration with the Minnesota Food Association and the Karen Organzation of Minnesota).

World Relief Minnesota is helping metro-area churches launch gardens for their refugee neighors.  See our Gardens of Eden page for more information on church gardening.