Refugees find familiarity through KC garden program

growers with harvest

7th St. in fall 2014

7th St. in summer 2015


How would you provide good food for your family if you were far removed from everything that was familiar to you, and you only spoke a few words of the language in your new country?

For many refugees who have fled their homeland because of war and persecution, this is their reality. Their known way of getting food is by growing it. Once they are resettled in Kansas City, or other cities across the U.S., they learn how to buy basic foods at the grocery store or farmers market. But it can be impossible to find some of the foods that are familiar to them. Additionally, their knowledge of growing food is useless if they have no access to land.

Although Kansas City has a vibrant community gardening scene, it can be difficult for refugees to access resources through community gardening groups due to language barriers and limited financial resources.

In 2012, JVS helped six refugees connect with community gardening plots at their English school. Since then, we have expanded to seek out land and start our own gardening program specifically for refugees. In 2014, the Health Care Foundation generously awarded JVS a grant to expand this project. We secured vacant land in the Historic Northeast neighborhood through the Land Bank of Kansas City, and we started gardens on two of these sites this spring.

It has been stunning to see the transformation. We have 11 growers this year, from age 22 to 66, from three different language groups around the globe.

On group workdays, the growers bring along their families and friends to help. They know from experience that with more hands helping, the load is lighter and the work, quicker. The growers prepare, plant, maintain, and harvest their own plots. They make their own decisions about what to plant, depending on the local climate of course. One grower wanted to grow lychee and papaya, but I had to tell her that it’s too cold to grow those in Missouri.

JVS, along with our project partner, Cultivate Kansas City, provides workshops on urban growing practices in the Midwest. Most of our growers have a great deal of growing experience and only need to know what crops grow here and the ideal time to plant them. They are also eager to learn new growing methods.

Our growers are mainly growing for their own household consumption, but when they have a surplus, they give excess food away to extended family, friends, and neighbors.  They have expressed how happy they are to grow food for their families, and they don’t have to go to the grocery store as often. One grower said that, now that he is able to provide food for his family from his garden, he “feels like a real dad again.”

JVS is grateful for the opportunity to provide such a meaningful program for these growers, where they can spend time outside exercising and growing healthy, culturally familiar food for their families and community. We look forward to adding 10 more growers and two new garden sites next year!

If you’d like to learn more about what we’re doing or to get involved, check out our Facebook page or email me at bthomas@jvskc.org.


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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at jsykes@hcfgkc.org.

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