Posted on Wed, September 05, 2012 by Slow Food USA
0 Comments | Categories: Food Justice, Slow Food Chapters in Action,
Written By Deirdra Stockmann, Slow Food USA volunteer and former leader with Slow Food Huron Valley
Growing food has long been part of the livelihood and survival of immigrants to the United States. Still today, as they work to make their way in a new place, many migrants find community and economic opportunity in food production. Recently, two Slow Food chapters – Slow Food Minnesota Twin Cities and Slow Food Dallas – have allied with local non-profits to support the agricultural efforts of refugees in their region. The partnerships, so far, have raised funds, expanded community gardens, promoted markets, and shared many memorable meals.
Slow Food Minnesota and the Minnesota Food Association
When Jane Rosemarin began her term as the Slow Food Minnesota leader a few years ago, she wanted to broaden the scope of the chapter’s activities. Anchored in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Slow Food Minnesota was the first of four chapters in the state. Since the chapter began in 1999 it has focused on connecting farmers and consumers, taste education, and to a large extent, sending area farmers and chefs to Terra Madre.
One new area of interest to Rosemarin was to connect with the Hmong community in the area. The Twin Cities are home to the largest concentration of Hmong in the U.S. and Hmong immigrants and descendants run markets, restaurants, and farmers market stalls, among other types of businesses. But many non-Hmong people know little about the culture, including the food traditions, of the Asian ethnic group.
Unsure how to begin to build new connections with the Hmong or other immigrant communities, an answer came to Rosemarin when she got a call “out of the blue” from Joci Tilsen of the Minnesota Food Association (MFA). Tilsen had heard that Slow Food Minnesota hosted great farm dinners and wanted to know if they would help plan an event to benefit MFA’s immigrant farmer training program, Big River Farms. After taking time to get to know each other, the two organizations soon found themselves planning the first Big River Slow Food dinner, which was held in September 2010.
The third annual Big River Slow Food event, on September 23rd, 2012, will bring chefs from four Twin Cities restaurants and a local chocolatier out to the Big River Farms to prepare a multi-course feast “in support of farmers who fled their countries to begin new lives as organic producers here,” the website explains. In addition to great food, the event will feature presentations by some of the farmers who are building their farm businesses at the incubator farm. Slow Food Minnesota and the Minnesota Food Association split the proceeds from the dinner and reinvest them in their programs. Slow Food Minnesota has directed some of the funds raised at the 2011 dinner toward sending a Big River Farm alum and organizer of Hmong farmers to Terra Madre this October.
“There are many established organizations in the Twin Cities that are doing a lot of good work…I see our chapter as being there to help other people who are already doing good things,” Rosemarin said. The chapter partners with small but established organizations in the Twin Cities that can benefit from the volunteers and other resources Slow Food Minnesota can provide. Another organization the group has worked with is the Community Design Center in St. Paul. The Design Center’s mission is to “build vibrant and healthy communities through food, conservation and youth development.” Rosemarin said she hopes to have Slow Food volunteers help lead food and gardening workshops for area youth, many of who are immigrants.
Rosemarin and her fellow leaders are still trying to find ways to get more members actively engaging with communities around food production and education. But, Rosemarin herself reflected on how getting to know some of the Big River farmers and the families in East St. Paul has helped break down some of the cultural barriers that result from unfamiliarity. “I think we see farmers markets in a whole different way. It makes the immigrant stands at the farmers market more accessible. It is breaking the barrier. I know what immigrant farmers went through to come here in a way I didn’t before.”
Slow Food Dallas and the International Rescue Committee
The Slow Food Dallas web site lists dozens of towns from which its members hail. (Among them, the food-inspired burgs of Buffalo, Farmers Branch, Grapevine and Grand Prairie.) A couple years ago, the chapter connected with a refugee housing community in Dallas to start a garden with the residents where they could grow herbs used in traditional dishes. The garden group gained permission to use a large plot of land on the site, but soon found that the work to prepare the land was greater than the resources they had to devote to the project.
Serendipitously, while at the housing community, the Slow Food Dallas team met Jim Stokes of the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC is an international humanitarian organization that provides a wide range of programs and social services in 40 countries and 22 U.S. cities. Dallas is one of several cities in the IRC network to host a program called New Roots. The initiative helps refugees “reestablish their ties to the land, celebrate their heritage and nourish themselves and their neighbors by planting strong roots—literally—in their new communities,” its website states.
The IRC invited Slow Food Dallas to help expand the New Roots garden site in uptown Dallas. The IRC, in collaboration with another local group, Gardeners in Community Development, had recently begun to revive an overgrown former urban garden site. A group of Slow Food Dallas members, including chapter co-leader Chris Tuck, joined the planning efforts underway. They held a 100-mile dinner to raise money to clear some weedy trees and expand the production capacity of the space.
About a year and a half ago, four refugee women from Bhutan started gardens on the site. The local nonprofits provided some support, but the gardeners chose what to do with their plots. “In the first year, they grew everything,” Stokes said, “from traditional [American] crops to southeast Asian vegetables like long beans, bitter melon, and Malabar spinach.” This year there are seven farmers from Bhutan, Laos, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and they are focusing their efforts based on what they learned with the first few harvests (the growing season is nearly year-round in Dallas). Many of the gardeners are selling at local farmers markets as well as providing fresh food for their families.
The garden provides a valuable opportunity for employment for refugee women who have limited options for work, Stokes said. (It is usually the younger men in the community who find full-time employment.) He reported that only some of the women had experience growing food and that selling at a Texas farmers market was a new to them all. The IRC helps build the gardeners’ capacity and prepares them for selling at market by making sure they have reliable transportation and a family member who speaks English in order to connect with market shoppers. In addition to providing a venue for meaningful work, Chris Tuck, chapter co-leader, observed that the garden also invites intergenerational learning, both within the refugee community itself and among the refugees and volunteers.
By linking with organizations that had expertise working with immigrant populations and established resources – namely, land – the Minnesota and Dallas Slow Food chapters were able to broaden the scope of their work. Both partnerships are looking forward to engaging more people in active learning and cultural exchange as they continue this exciting work.