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New Roots gives refugees the chance to support themselves

Biak Par, a third-year farmer, and her daughter show off the contents of a week’s share. The Farm Share program allows customers to purchase a weekly share of fresh, organic produce. Money from the purchase goes directly to support the farmers. PHOTO COURTESY OF NEW ROOTS

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — According to New Roots for Refugees program manager Meredith Walrafen, it’s all about the food.

“I just really value the power of food to bring people together,” she said. “Especially for people coming to a new country who aren’t sure of their place yet, food has a really unique way of connecting us.”

For Paw Wah Tamla, a New Roots farmer and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) specialist, it’s about the flowers, too.

“Growing flowers makes me fresh and happy,” she said. “I wake up in the morning, look at my backyard — the flowers make me so happy.

“I would like to share that happiness with others.”

For the customers who subscribe to the New Roots Farm Share, it’s about the food, the flowers and the opportunity to support refugees learning to support themselves.

For over a decade, New Roots for Refugees has empowered families from the refugee community to start farm businesses by growing and selling produce through farmers’ markets, wholesale and the New Roots Farm Share.

At the Juniper Gardens Training Farm in Kansas City, Kansas, farmers are given a quarter-acre plot to grow vegetables like tomatoes, beets, spinach, green onions, lettuce, eggplants and more.

New Roots farmers are given a quarter-acre plot to grow a variety of vegetables.

Farmers bring agricultural expertise from their home country and continue to learn more about growing organic, sustainable produce in the Midwestern climate.

During the pandemic, these farms were crucial to supporting many of these families.

“We work with lots of folks who work in different service industries,” said Walrafen. “And so, there were people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

“The [Farm Share] program was a lifesaver for a lot of our farmers.”

This program allows customers to purchase a weekly share of fresh, organic produce.

Money from the purchase goes directly to support the farmers.

Right now, the program is offering early summer and late summer shares. Each share is 11 weeks.

Customers can sign up online and choose one or both shares.

“If you choose to buy the whole summer you get one week free,” said Walrafen. “You select a pick-up location — we have four locations around the metro area.”

“The deliveries begin in mid-May. We have an hour and a half window at each of our locations where you can pick up your share.”

New this year is an online store where customers can select add-on items like meats, extra produce, local honey and bouquets of flowers.

Tamla began growing flowers on her family’s farm two years ago. The venture was so successful, she decided to apply for the prestigious Floret Scholarship.

Floret Flowers, offering workshops for flower farmers, received 4,000 applications from 79 countries.

Tamla was one of 12 applicants to be awarded a scholarship.

“This Floret Scholarship will help my experience in the flower business,” explained Tamla. “I will learn how to store them, how to grow them, how to make flower bouquets.

“I’m planning to train farmers so we can have flower add-on items throughout the season.”

New Roots farmers go all over the city to different farmers’ markets and occasionally do pop-up markets at different locations, including local Catholic parishes.

You might find New Roots farmers selling their produce at your parish or local farmer’s markets this summer.

However, over the last year, pandemic restrictions have limited sales at the markets and hurt the farmers’ wholesale business to local restaurants.

The Farm Share program has been a saving grace for both the farmers selling produce and the customers wanting to purchase fresh vegetables in a safe environment.

New Roots has a reputation for providing the best fresh produce.

“I’ve worked with New Roots for eight years,” said Walrafen. “I really do believe we have some of the freshest produce that I’ve seen at markets.

“We’re placing the orders for our shares on a Monday, and it’s being delivered to you on a Wednesday or Thursday.”

“So, it’s coming out of the ground so close to when you’re receiving it,” she continued. “That means better freshness and more longevity for the produce you’re receiving.”

In addition to produce, Farm Share members get newsletters containing recipes, information about the vegetables in the shares and the farmers who grow them.

This summer, no one can predict how the pandemic might affect the sale of produce at farmers’ markets or to wholesale buyers. So, New Roots is hoping to increase subscribers to their Farm Share program.

“Hopefully we will get more members to sign up,” said Tamla. “Some people have very good hearts, and they want to help others. But they don’t know how.

“This is the first step, the first way [to help] — to buy a Farm Share — because the money goes directly to support the farmers.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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