Fresh International Garden provides refugees with urban farming skills
Urban farming may be a buzzword now, but it's something that's been happening for several years in Mountain View at the Fresh International Gardens.
The program, run by Catholic Social Services, teaches refugees that are new to the state the skills to farm successfully in Alaska.
"Most of our clients come from countries where they spent most of their lives eating fresh produce," said CSS Refugee Program Director, Issa Spatrisano. "They're from countries where they walked up to a tree and picked a coconut off or a mango off a tree, and they come here and they're shocked that 95 percent of our food is imported."
The refugees raise a variety of vegetables on a plot that is slightly under a quarter acre in size. But none of what they harvest goes home to feed their families. All of it is strictly for sale.
"All the food that's grown here is then sold at the farmers market," said Spatrisano. "All the income that's generated is added together, and at the end of the season, we pay out everyone who participated in the farmer's market."
Spatrisano said last year, refugees in the program earned $13,000, which was divvied up among them, depending on how many hours they had worked. She said that translated to a wage in the neighborhood of $8 an hour. But, she was quick to add, the program isn't just about earning an income. Refugees learn business skills they can take with them, for sure, but they also get to practice English and social skills with their customers.
The program has been a success on many levels, but in the near future, it may get even better. Anchorage Community Land Trust, working with Catholic Social Services, recently purchased a plot of land directly behind the Mountain View Farmer's Market where refugees regularly sell their produce. Volunteers have spread soil and put up fencing on what they're calling Grow North Farm.
Emily Cohn with the Land Trust said the farm will offer a much larger space for refugees and other urban farmers to do their business.
"It's in the heart of our neighborhood on our main commercial corridor," said Cohn. "And not only do we run the market here, but we will have this great community space where families can come and grow their produce-- and sell their produce-- on the same lot."
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