Gardening in an adopted home
Extension has been teaching refugees how to garden in Anchorage since 2007 as part of its Refugee Farmers Market Project.
Working with Anchorage horticulture agent Julie Riley, they learn how to grow Alaska vegetables and herbs in an 8,000-square-foot garden on city parkland. The refugees harvest their crops and, with the help of volunteers, sell them at Anchorage farmers markets under the name Fresh International Gardens.
Participants have come from Congo, Togo, Sudan, Thailand and, most recently, Bhutan. Bhutanese refugee Phul Niroula resettled in Anchorage with her family in 2011 through the Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services Program. She enjoys working in the garden.
The project gives participants a chance to practice their English and to learn marketing and customer service skills. Sales from the garden in 2015 reached an all-time high of $12,640 and included nearly 900 bags of the gardeners’ signature salad mix, a blend of lettuces, mizuna, arugula, spinach, dill and other ingredients.
Proceeds are split among participants, but Riley says, “It’s not about the money.” The project gets the refugees out and interacting with others in the garden and at market. They also learn about new vegetables and may even start a business.
Last summer, 14 participants worked more than 1,800 hours in the garden and at market. Three of them had never gardened before. Others have gardened for years, have their own gardens and are even selling independently.
Niroula has started her own garden behind the home she acquired through the Habitat for Humanity program. She grows Asian vegetables, pumpkins, potatoes, lettuce and white radishes for her family.
- Fresh International Gardens is one of the largest sources of fresh vegetables grown in Anchorage.
- The project is a collaboration with the Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services, which refers interested refugees.