Major Federal Grant Supports Vt. Refugee Farmers

The New Farms for New Americans Program will use the funds to provide garden plots and education on agriculture and nutrition

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Members of Vermont's immigrant and refugee community are celebrating a major federal grant they say will provide critical nutrition access, cultural connections, and education about farming.

New Farms for New Americans, a Burlington program administered by the nonprofit Association of Africans Living in Vermont, or AALV, just landed a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It'll provide substantial garden plots to roughly 70 households to support food production, and will offer a nearly yearlong immersion for refugee farmers into Vermont-specific issues like soil differences, growing seasons, and what pests they may encounter here as opposed to in the homelands they had to flee because of violence or persecution.

The grant-funded initiative will support more than 250 people, according to the USDA.

"Having this ability to grow these crops here that would reflect what we are used to from our home countries is really powerful, and allows us to remain connected to the land we left and also being part of this community," said Jacob Bogre of AALV.

The federal money will also support nutrition education customized for refugees, who, the USDA said, can experience health issues like higher blood pressure or weight gain when they come to the U.S. and start eating unfamiliar foods.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, toured the farm Monday.

"One of the ways we can help is by providing opportunities, this grant does that, for people to sustain themselves by farming consistent with where they came from," Welch observed while congratulating the grant recipients.

Bhutanese farmer Man Maya Rai told NECN through an interpreter that growing her own produce has been a huge help on a tight household budget, especially since she works to freeze much of what she grows for the winter.

"We distribute to other extended families also," the farmer noted. "It's fresh and organic—we grow that kind of vegetables—and it saves money also in the summer season."

The USDA said in a statement that it supports and strengthens all types of agriculture, including urban farming and community gardening.

"I look forward to watching the evolution of New Farms for New Americans, which will assist these farmers in deepening their knowledge of Vermont's growing seasons, soils, and best management practices," Vicky Drew, a Vermont conservationist with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, said in a written statement.

For more information on New Farms for New Americans, visit the nonprofit's website.

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