Project: Huertas

Understanding the Food Security of Migrant Farmworkers in Vermont

The International Rescue Committee’s New Roots program

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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. <;.

One thought on “The International Rescue Committee’s New Roots program

  1. Dan, this New Roots program through the International Rescue Committee is really interesting! What sticks out to me the most about these programs is that many of them provide nutrition education which is something that I discussed in my most recent blog. I think this demonstrates the importance and interest in teaching immigrants about new foods that they are incorporating into their diet. Perhaps Huertas could integrate some of the materials they use if the program adds a nutrition education component in the future. I also thought it was cool to see that other programs throughout the country provide culturally relevant produce in their gardens, something that Huertas wants to improve upon in their own gardens. Did any of the New Roots projects explain how they acquired these seeds or plants? This would surely be of interest to everyone involved in Huertas. I also imagine that Huertas would have a greater interest in partnering with an organization such as this one because as opposed to grants and other financial support provided by government, this NGO would probably not care about whether participants of the Huertas program had proper documentation.

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