Refugees Put Down Roots Through Community Farming

Pine Island Community Farm // USA

Hyacinthe brings in the day’s harvest at Pine Island Community Farm

The modern world is always surprising us with its strangeness: until recently, 3,000 frozen goats were shipped to Burlington, Vermont each year from Australia, to feed the region’s growing community of New Americans.

As Pine Island Community Farm’s website explains, “New Americans refer to people who came to the U.S. as refugees, often after fleeing violence, torture, or ethnic cleansing in their home countries.” Most New Americans, in Burlington and elsewhere, lived for 15–20 years in refugee camps before being permanently resettled by the U.N. in the United States. The largest populations of New Americans in Vermont come from Vietnam, Bosnia, Bhutan, and Somalia, as well as Burma, Iraq, Sudan, The Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. Many were farmers or herders before they were driven from their homes, and share a preference for goat meat and fresh local food that leaves them searching all over New England for the foods they want, facing numerous cross-cultural challenges and often being left disappointed.

Baby Goats at Pine Island Community Farm

It is this problem — along with the absurdity of shipping goats to a part of the world well-suited to raising them — that inspired the founding of Pine Island Community Farm in 2013. The farm is a partnership between The Vermont Land Trust and The Association of Africans Living in Vermont. The Land Trust, which conserves farmland as well as forestland and other natural resources, offered a 230-acre property to the project with a no-cost lease for five years. Shortly after that, Chuda Dhaurali, a refugee from Bhutan, became the project’s pilot goat farmer. He raised 80 goats his first season and has now expanded to a herd of roughly 250. He was joined in 2014 by Theogène Mahoro, who heads up chicken operations at the farm.

Since then, more than 60 garden plots have been established, and are used by New American families both for home and commercial gardening. Most recently, the farm acquired bees.

Farming is a family affair at Pine Island

Not only does Pine Island offer New Americans the opportunity to access local, affordable, culturally relevant foods, it also gives these new arrivals a way to connect with land and community in ways similar to what they left behind. (The farm can act as a gathering place and event venue, and even has a spit sized for roasting a whole goat!) Moreover, projects like this do their part to rejuvenate the small farm economy in New England, a part of the world which has relied heavily on food imports ever since the industrial revolution and the rise of midwestern factory farms. So, while Pine Island Community Farm is offering New Americans at least a small part of what they have lost, one could say that the members of the Pine Island Community are doing just as much for their new home.

To learn more about Pine Island Community Farm, visit: http://www.pineislandfarmvt.com.

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