Are you an Iowan who professes an unshakable love for the sweet corn that comes from your local farmstand? A Mainer who can’t live without your state’s legendary blueberries? A Californian who considers the silky-fleshed avocados plucked from your backyard tree unparalleled? The flavors closest to home are often the ones closest to our hearts.
This summer, vacant lots across South Philadelphia are coming to life with the produce of Asia, reports Ariela Rose in Grid, as refuges from Bhutan and Burma (aka Myanmar) seek to bring the foods of their homelands to their new American state.
Through a project called Growing Home, the empty lots have been converted into five community gardens featuring 72 beds that are tended by 70 different Nepalese and Burmese clans, according to the South Philly Review. There, the refugees have sown seeds that call up a connection to their native soil—bok choy and mizuna, hot peppers and eggplant, fragrant Thai basil and spicy Burmese mint.
“Many of the seeds…used were carried by the refugees, safely sewn into their clothing as they made their journey to the United States,” says Rose in Grid, highlighting the deep reverence these immigrants have for their relationship with farming.
The refugees from Bhutan—ethnic Nepalis—and the refugees from Burma—ethnic minorities—experienced severe discrimination in their home countries and spent years in refugee camps before arriving in America. When Philadelphia’s Nationalities Service Center and the Refugee Social Services Department asked them what would make the difficult transition here easier, a place to work the soil was at the top of the list.
Although garden manager Adam Forbes has been instrumental in getting the project off the ground, he wants the gardens to be a place where refugees can support one another, utilize their farming skills, and develop a sense of community in a strange land.
The feeling of community is quickly building, and both the refugees and Forbes are benefitting. He writes on the Growing Home blog:
At least 30–40 people come out every day to water, hang out, eat some snacks, harvest greens, etc. With our picnic tables now in place the gardens have become a real hang out. We have been having informal English lessons, eating mangoes, sharing recipes, drinking tea, and much more…. My Nepali is getting much better and I am learning a few Burmese words each week.