Community Garden Gets Refugees Growing
BY NATALIE KOLTUN ’16
At a community garden in Riverdale, a woman circles her small plot of land, carefully examining a bed of baby spinach sprouting through the soil.
Dhan Gautam visits the garden behind the University of Maryland’s Center for Educational Partnership building three times a week to tend her 150-square-foot patch of land, where she grows flowers, bitter melon, tomatoes and other vegetables. Her efforts don’t just put fresh food on her table; they reconnect Gautam with her homeland, and connect her with her new community.
The Field of Greens program, funded by the UMD Extension, Prince George’s County Redevelopment Authority and other community partners, provides 51 plots for local refugee families to grow and harvest their own food. Launched in 2014, the program also aims to encourage sustainable and urban agriculture in an area where ample yard space can be hard to come by.
“At my parents’ home, we had a big garden,” says Gautam, who moved to the United States from Nepal in 2008. (Many of the gardeners resettled in Prince George’s County after regimes in Bhutan and Nepal drove out Buddhists.) “We grew everything there and never had to buy vegetables from the market.”
Agricultural backgrounds are common among the refugees, who are drawn to Field of Greens as an outlet to apply their skills and connect with their native country, says Betti Gregus, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer serving as the community garden coordinator.
Field of Greens, Gregus says, is essential in helping local families live healthier lives through better access to fresh food.
“Many of these people are low-income, and the veggies they grow here often make up much, if not nearly all, of their diet,” she says.
Once a vacant soccer field, the all-organic garden recently expanded to include a youth area, where student groups from the International Refugee Committee and local schools plant in raised garden beds, and a communal “food forest,” which includes more than 70 trees and shrubs that will one day bear fruits and nuts.
“But it’s not just about the food—it’s the whole community aspect,” Gregus says. “You can really see these people come to life when they bring home things they grew themselves.”
Watch this video about the Field of Greens by the HGIC: