Monday, September 21, 2009

So much to report!!
This past Saturday morning I visited the Sunset Garden. The morning was absolutely beautiful, as many Idaho mornings seem to be, before the afternoon sun commenced burning my freckled skin. After turning down a discrete dirt road off of Taft Street in downtown Boise and cruising through some puddles, the garden was suddenly open before me. And I must say, it was absolutely beautiful. It isn't visible from the road, and I felt like I had stumbled onto a lost world. Not only was it hidden, it was huge!
After talking to Sherilyn Orr, the garden manager, I learned that this area had two different gardens. The smallest is the actual community garden, and is run in typical community garden style. Plots are given away to individual families, people, etc. and they tend them as needed. There are two work days per week, one on Tuesday (I think) and one on Saturday.
The other, larger garden is dedicated almost entirely to the senior center on the property. It is maintained almost entirely by Bernie, an 80-year-old resident of the senior center. Bernie was amazing... Sherilyn told me he is out in the garden every day, and he harvests vegetables for the cooks in the senior center to prepare. My understanding was that this garden provides almost, if not all, of the vegetables the senior center needs during the growing season! And considering there are 50 residents there, this is no small task. It was wonderful to see both Bernie and Sherilyn out in the morning air, ferociously gardening, and seeing what kind of a paradise they had created. They sent me home with some cucumbers and a pumpkin. If I'm feeling ambitious enough, hopefully I can turn that pumpkin into a pie or some scones!
This morning I visited another garden, though this one is techinically a farm. It serves African refugees in the community and is partnered with African Community Development (more about that later). Although I found out about this garden from the Idaho Horticulture Society gardening competition, this parcel of land doesn't function like a typical community garden. The Idaho Office for Refugees has organized the coordination of this farm with restauraunts and retail in Boise so they have an outlet for fresh produce sales as well as some generation of income. Buta Muzuri, who gave me the official tour, told me the garden is selling to Edward's Greenhouse, the Co-op, and a few local restaurants. On top of that they also have a farm stand at the Saturday morning market in Boise.
Now I want to talk a little bit about the other side of this project, the side that is incredibly inspirational to me: African Community Development. As Buta explained to me, the Resettlement Agency, which helps newly-arrived refugees in this country, only extends their help to 8 months after the refugees' arrival. This is an important and necessary first step, but it's simply not enough; as a studier of foreign languages, I can promise that 8 months is not enough time to have enough command of English to function in an American society. So the purpose of African Community Development is to pick up where the Resettlement Agency leaves off. This is where the farm comes in. Through stimulus money the farm was able to offer a few paid positions this year, and the income from produce sales is set aside for African Community Development. This money helps out members if they need it, and is generally there for support. Buta told me there are 40 families who are members, and to add to the sense of community there is no membership fee of any kind.
On top of all of this, there are refugees from all over Africa. Refugees from countries who were bitter enemies back in their home countries garden in the same space, including warring sides from the Rwandan genocide. Buta told me that there are some "pockets of resistance" to this idea of living together in peace, but that generally, this idea was very well received. On the farm, for instance, there are members of warring tribes working side by side.
Just another example of how gardening doesn't have to be just "gardening"; it brings people together, whether it's because of a shared common space or a common desire to eradicate goat heads from the planet. Or a combination of the two!

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