New Friends and Farmers (Part II)

In a previous post, I talked about my first meeting with Victor Chan, an immigrant farmer I met while tending my community plot over at Kentucky Garden. The garden is located directly across from Near West Intergenerational School, where kids are learning to be urban farmers.

Our middle-school students from Near West have been experimenting with zebra mussel shell compost and are ready for their next assignment. Now they will be working with refugee farmers who are new to Cleveland, thanks to a collaboration with Community Grants Coalition and Catholic Charities.

ccmeeting1Our students got a chance to meet our Nepali farmers for the first time on December 17. This happened to be the day they were meeting with seniors over at St. Augustine Health Ministries, so we coordinated a brief introduction.

While the group was entertaining the seniors with puzzles, I had a chance to walk the junior/senior cluster over to an urban farm plot adjacent to St. Augustine / Catholic Charities. It literally is adjacent to the parking lot, so the kids were there in under a minute! Brandon Noel, my liaison at the Refugee Center, walked a dozen of his refugee clients over to the plot to meet the kids. It was an interesting connection! I wanted both of these groups to feel the challenge of meeting others, who, for the first time, didn’t speak the same language as their own.

You could see it on their faces … a little nervous energy, some excitement …. stretching beyond the norm, trying to communicate with their cheat sheets to say something — ANYTHING. Brandon knows this feeling all too well – how to acclimate a group of new arrivals that just got off a plane from thousands of miles away, who don’t know English or much about Midwestern culture, let alone middle school students from America. For 20 minutes, those young Near West students FELT that challenge!

They held their cheat sheets and tried to speak the words that had been translated from their own native language. They talked about बोक्रा (shells) and कम्पोस्ट (compost) and how to say “I don’t know how to speak Nepalese” in the language that our new friends understood. It was simply a way to begin the conversation so they realize what they will be up against for future training.

Some of them took to the task very well, while others were extremely shy. When the tough part begins in a couple of months, they will return to St. Augustine. Some of the students will be teaching senior gardeners who live at the facility how to mix the compost and plant seeds, while another group will help the refugees mix some more compost for their spring plantings.

This has proved to be an interesting project with many twists and turns. It couldn’t have happened without the collaboration of Cornell University, NAPECA, Near West Intergenerational School, Catholic Charities, St. Augustine and Community Grants Coalition. How wonderful it is to have so many people believe in the value of this project! We are the only group in the world conducting these experiments with seniors and refugee farmers.

And the best part? It really warmed my heart to see all these smiling faces and head shakes of “yes” which makes me believe that this project can be replicated in other communities. Our NWIS students may even develop some interesting intergenerational friendships, which would be a terrific outcome. The seniors at St. Augustine already have a wonderful garden, but now the potential for crops at the urban plot may allow for greater opportunity.

I am ready for spring as I drink a cup of coffee and stare out the window at five inches of fresh snow. Yes, it is piling up on my backyard garden, so bring on the sun and fertile ground, Mother Earth. We are ready for you!