Project: Huertas

Understanding the Food Security of Migrant Farmworkers in Vermont

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The International Rescue Committee’s New Roots program

By: Dan Rosen

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is an international NGO that deals with humanitarian issues across the globe.  In the United States, they are one of the major organizations providing assistance to refugees, with offices in twenty-two US cities.  Among one of their many programs, New Roots is a gardening program that “enables refugees to reestablish their ties to the land, celebrate their heritage, and nourish themselves and neighbors by planting strong roots- literally- in their new communities.”  The IRC currently has a New Roots program in six of its twenty-two cities, including New York, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, San Diego, and Boise.  Because IRC is such a huge organization with a macro-oriented mission, local New Roots programs consolidate with local community organizations to bring about successful gardening projects.

New Roots was initiated in San Diego, and it is still the most extensive of all branches.  San Diego’s program focuses on five core interrelated areas: healthy and culturally appropriate food security, nutrition and wellness, farming expertise, community leadership, and advocacy and systems change.  This interconnected approach creates a “neighborhood-scale food system” that empowers residents as producers, vendors, and consumers of healthy food and builds local economic development.  The program currently operates three community gardens in the City Heights neighborhood, a farmers market, a commercial farm business education program, a nutrition education program, and two youth programs.  To foster their success, they work with pre-existing programs including San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project, Victory Gardens San Diego, and the University of California.

The first of any New Roots project in the country is the New Roots community farm, which provides space for eighty-five families in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego.  New Roots also operates a smaller community garden with eighteen plots and includes an herbal remedy garden with classes and workshops in traditional healing offered for community members.  Additionally, New Roots initiated the New Roots Aqua Farm, a 1200 square foot hydroponics system in an asphalt-covered city lot.  This farm includes a closed-loop cycle of sustainably raised and hormone-free tilapia and hydroponically grown vegetables.  Farmers have the option of selling their produce at the local City Heights Farmers Market, the country’s first EBT accessible farmers market.  Refugees who do not participate in gardening have the benefit of being able to purchase culturally relevant ethnic produce not available in supermarkets.  New Roots also funds the Fresh Fund program, which incentivizes EBT, WIC, and SSI recipients to use their benefits at farmers markets.  At participating markets, Fresh Fund matches government benefits, which allows participants to purchase double the produce for the same price.  To fulfill its mission, New Roots San Diego has a nutrition education program that educates refugees about nutrition as well as how to access emergency healthy foods.  They also operate two high school after-school gardening programs that train youth in urban farming and food justice.

New Roots Salt Lake City has a very expansive program as well.  On pre-existing community gardens spread throughout Salt Lake City, New Roots secures plots for refugees interesting in gardening.  They also provide refugees with seeds and seedlings and advise on how to best garden in Salt Lake City’s environment.  Since the refugees are immersed into pre-existing gardens, Salt Lake City’s gardeners have the benefit of sharing agricultural skills in a cross-cultural context.  Salt Lake City’s New Roots program also operates a food access program that establishes farm stands in low-income communities where many refugees live to buy nutritious and culturally relevent produce, sold by the refugees who grew them.  The farm stands accept EBT benefits, and the Fresh Fund operates in Salt Lake City as well.

New York and Seattle both have small programs, and information on them is limited.  The New York program operates two community gardens in the South Bronx.  Although funded by the IRC New York office, the garden was built with the intention of being used by the community as a whole, not just refugees, and has been incredibly successful with integrating many community members from diverse backgrounds into the gardens.  The IRC in Seattle operates the Namaste Community Garden in the nearby city of Tukwila.  Working in partnership with the St. Thomas Parish, 70 plots are provided for refugees on church grounds. See below, an awesome video about the New Roots program in the Bronx!

Out of all the New Roots program, I feel that the program in Phoenix has the most overlap with Huertas.  Many of their supports take place in the rural outskirts of Phoenix.  Their mission is to promote economic empowerment and food security for over 100 farmers, gardeners, and refugees employed in agriculture.  Although they did not specifically reference Latino migrant farmworkers, possibly due to legality issues, I would imagine that many of them are beneficiaries of this program.  The program helps teach people how to farm in the harsh desert climate and provides access to farm ownership through business consulting, small loans, and training tools.  The Food Security Program improves access to healthy foods in areas where refugees live by working with local food providers and community groups.  The Food Security program also offers nutrition classes .  The Prickly Pear Food Pantry provides culturally appropriate emergency food assistance in Phoenix.

The IRC New Roots project in Boise provides funding and ideas to the Boise Global Gardens program, facilitated by the Idaho Office for Refugees.  The Global Gardens program sponsors refugee agriculture projects at eight locations in the Boise area.  Specifically, Global Gardens provides garden and farm space for about 100 refugee families, as well as training in horticultural production and marketing.  They distinguish between their projects with regards to what is grown for market purposes and what is grown to be eaten by the growers.  Five community gardens provide families with proper nourishment, two farms sell to farmers markets, and one farm sells to farmers markets, restaurants, and has its own CSA.  Of particular interest to Huertas, the Somali Bantu Community Farm distributes a portion of their food to local food banks, and they grow a mix of African and American crops and have shared hybridized cross-cultural recipes with their customers.  Four of the gardens are on donated land from synagogues, churches, and community organizations, and one garden is on an urban vacant lot.  All gardens are within walking distance of where the refugees live.

Although IRC has a relatively high budget to work with, and refugees are here legally and receive government-supported benefits, Huertas can incorporate many aspects IRC uses into their own development.  For example, IRC is not a grassroots organization- it is a marcro-oriented international organization.  Thus, they partner with grassroots organizations and pre-existing projects to initiate their own projects.  Perhaps, Huertas can partner with larger organizations with more broad goals to push this project forward.  Particularly, it may be beneficial to reach out to organizations that reach many immigrant communities around the country to work towards building gardens for migrant farmworkers in Vermont.


New Roots | International Rescue Committee (IRC). International Rescue Committee, 2013. Web. 1 Apr. 2013. <;.

Refugee Agriculture Program. Idaho Office for Refugees, 2013. Web. 1 Apr. 2013. <;.

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Nutrition Education

By: Hannah Ross

In my previous posts, I delved into the underlying causes of food insecurity among migrant farmworkers and the resulting nutrition-related health problems they encounter. I believe this research reveals the tremendous importance Huertas has on this marginalized population which is why I have decided to discuss the significance of including nutrition education or programming. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, too, states that “establishing a healthy lifestyle and preventing illness in the U.S. can be difficult without a good understanding of how to adapt to  American food…” (USCRI) While providing migrant farmworkers access to gardens certainly increases their food security and health overall, combining that with nutrition education would benefit them even further. Here are some components which would help make nutrition programming for migrant farmworkers successful:

  • Location: Nutrition education would be most beneficial if the classes were brought to the migrant farmworkers. Since many of them are undocumented and/or do not have access to transportation, there is a lot of fear and anxiety that exists around traveling and being in public.

  • Time: As with agricultural farmworkers, dairy workers, too, work long hours. Therefore, class times would have to be respectful of farmworkers’ workday schedule.
  • Culture: As one study examining trends in nutrition services at Migrant Health Centers found, it is for “nutrition outreach, education and treatment programs and materials to be effective, they must be linguistically and culturally acceptable and appropriate to the migrant and seasonal farmworkers being served”. Therefore, it would be critical to provide all information in Spanish and fitting to the different Latin American countries from which migrant farmworkers come (Runyan).
  • Materials: Migrant Health Centers which provided nutrition services also noted the importance of education materials. For instance, some centers use “food boxes containing nutrients frequently missing from the diets of local migrants. These boxes include instruction on how to prepare these foods and how to incorporate them into traditional diets.” Others sited positive feedback and results from “poster-size, picture-based materials for display on a refrigerator or on kitchen cabinet doors dealing with calorie-controlled, fat-controlled and sodium-controlled diets.” Lastly, many health centers stressed “that the most successful nutrition education materials were brief, non-technical and based on pictures rather than on the written word” (Runyan). Furthermore, due to the relatively short growing season and long, harsh winters in Vermont, it would also be beneficial to provide materials on how to preserve food, perhaps through canning, during this time. It is certainly great that participants have access to fresh produce during the summer, but that only represents a small portion of the entire year and it would be especially great if food security could be insured throughout the whole year.

In an earlier post, I mentioned the fact that many of the nutrition-related health problems migrant farmworkers experience in the United States were not commonly experienced at home. However, exposure to new, less nutritious food and a decreased level of mobility, has attributed to a decline in food security and overall health status among migrant farmworkers. Nonetheless, this indicates the significance Huertas has on migrant farmworkers in Vermont and even a potential greater impact the program could have with nutrition education.


“Nutrition.” U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. <–immigrants/health/nutrition/refugee-nutrition-outreach.html&gt;.

Runyan, Donna H., and Patti C. Morgan. “Nutrition and Migrant Health: Trends in Nutrition Services at Migrant Health Centers.” Georgetown University Child Development Center (1987).

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Oaxacan Recipes

By: Sam Rothberg

The volunteers and others involved with Huertas often gather with migrant farmworkers in Vermont to not only help plant kitchen gardens, but to cook and enjoy food together. Below are three recipes from Zarela Martínez’s cookbook, “The Food and Life of Oaxaca” that would add unique flavor and variety to the gatherings. All of the recipes contain ingredients unique to Mexico that could be grown in the workers’ kitchen gardens.  The ingredient lists and explanations are taken directly from Martínez’s cookbook. Cook and enjoy!

Arroz con Chepil=Rice with Chepil


“This is one of the most popular Oaxacan rice dishes. There is no substitute for the chepil”(Martínez, 238).

Because there is no substitute for the chepil, this dish is a great recommendation for community gatherings and meals among migrant workers and Huertas volunteers.  It is an easy dish to make and provides great Mexican flavors to the palate.

1 cup long-grain rice

3 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cups chicken or pork stock

3 tablespoons chepil leaves stripped from stems

1/3 teaspoon salt, or to taste

“In a deep bowl, carefully rinse the rice in several changes of cold water until no starchy residue is visible. Drain thoroughly in a large sieve, shaking to remove as much water as possible.

In a heavy medium-size saucepan, heat the lard over medium-high heat until rippling.  Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until it colors slightly and sounds like sand as you stir it. Carefully pour off and discard any excess fat. Add the garlic and onion; cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Stir in the stock, chepil, and salt. Cover tightly, reduce the heat to very low, and cook for 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for about 5 minutes, tightly covered, before serving”(Martínez, 238).

Salsa de Chile Pasilla=Oaxacan Pasilla Chile Salsa

“This is one of the most common table sauces in the state. It gets its haunting flavor from the Oaxacan pasilla chile, a smoked and dried type not to be confused with the regular Mexican pasillas that come form a different chile and are dried without smoking”(Martínez, 254).

A salsa is easy to make and represents Mexican and latin cuisine well. This salsa is very unique and would be a great addition to a Huertas gathering.

3 medium-small ripe tomatoes

1 Oaxacan pasilla chile or 1 dried chipotle or morita chile

½ small onion, coarsely chopped

1 garlic clove

1 teaspoon dried Oaxacan oregano or ½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled

½ teaspoon salt, or to taste

“Place the tomatoes and chile in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Drain and let sit until cool enough to handle. Peel the tomatoes and remove the stem from the chile.

Place the tomatoes and chile in a blender with the onion, garlic, and oregano. Process until smooth. Season with salt to taste. The sauce will keep in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to 2 days”(Martínez, 254).

Enfrijoladas=Tortillas with Bean Purée



“This is one of the standard snacks found at Oaxacan City food stands and restaurants”(Martínez, 131).

1 Oaxacan pasilla chile

1 small onion, halved

1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped

2 dried avocado leaves, toasted

1 cup cooked black beans

3 cups bean cooking liquid

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

2 tablespoons lard

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled

½ cup vegetable oil

12 corn tortillas, homemade

8 ounces queso fresco or young ricotta salata, crumbled

“Place the dried chile in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for about 20 minutes. Drain well. Coarsley chop half the onion and place in a blender with the drained chile, garlic, avocado leaves, beans, and a little of the bean liquid to facilitate blending; reserve the rest. Stir in ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste.

In a small saucepan, heat the lard to rippling over medium heat. Add the puréed bean mixture and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Gradually stir in enough of the reserved bean cooking liquid to thin the mixture to the consistency of heavy cream. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting, and keep warm, stirring occasionally, while you make the relish.

Mince the remaining half onion. In a small bowl, combine with the vinegar, oregano, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste. Set aside.

In a small skillet just large enough to hold a tortilla, heat the oil until rippling over high heat. Fry the tortillas, one at a time, about 30 seconds. Lift out onto paper towels to drain. Fold each into quarters while it is still hot enough to be pliable; dip into the hot bean purée and place on a platter. When all are done, sprinkle with the onion mixture and the crumbled cheese. Serve immediately”(Martínez, 131).

Additionally, below is a link to a great recipe for tortilla soup.  This is a traditional mexican dish and with the apprpriate herbs and vegetables, can be made authentically.  Input from farmers and collaboration within the group could help make the stewing of this tortilla soup a fun and delicious gathering.

Torilla Soup:


Martínez, Zarela. The Food and Life of Oaxaca, Mexico. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1997. Print.

Food Network. Tortilla Soup Recipe.