United States: Immigrant farmers dig in

Eilene Zimmerman
A Somali Bantu woman and girls at the farm.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

SAN DIEGO – On an early evening in late July, the sun cast long shadows on rows of beans, machicha (amaranth), potatoes, tomatoes, and other crops at the New Roots Community Farm.

Several groups of Somali Bantu women in brightly colored skirts and headscarves weeded and harvested. Maw Ni, a Burmese woman in a long dress, studied the photo of a rosemary plant on a Burpee seed packet.

These are some of the farmers of New Roots, an urban farm that comprises 80 small plots on 2.3 acres in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego. It took years of bureaucratic wrangling and more than $40,000 before the farm became a reality in June.

Here the city’s growing population of immigrants – many resettled from war-torn countries – can grow the foods they used to eat, both for themselves and to sell in local farmers’ markets. Since 2004, about 400 Somali Bantu have come to San Diego.

Amy Lint, with the local office of the International Rescue Committee, is the farm’s coordinator. She says that although the food itself is important, so is the social aspect. “People who can’t speak English wind up very isolated. You go to the grocery store, and you can’t talk to anyone. You don’t recognize the food. People need to feel part of the larger society,” she says.

As she walks the paths between plots, Ms. Lint points out Pedro Chino, from Guerrero, Mexico, speaking with a Cambodian man in a large straw hat. “See that?” she says, smiling. “They are talking, sharing information. In any other place, that never would have happened.”

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