Breaking new ground: How a Kansas City organization is helping refugees put down roots

This week’s spotlight: all things food.

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Khadijo Yussuf, a graduate of New Roots, broke ground at her own farm site this past spring.
(photo courtesy New Roots Facebook)

Now that they’ve harvested the last of the tomatoes, the farmers at New Roots are spending the winter cultivating some of their other skills: driving, English, and small business management.

New Roots—a partnership between the food justice organization Cultivate KC and Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas—provides refugees in Kansas City the space and resources they need to gain income and self-sufficiency for their families through farming.

Many refugees who come to the U.S. already have extensive agricultural experience, but lack the resources and language skills needed to set up their own farms.

New Roots runs a four-year program with 16 refugee families who are each given a quarter-acre of land to grow their choice of crops. They’re also given access to seeds, equipment, and other important resources like English language classes, help setting up bank accounts, and driving lessons.

Rachel Pollock, program coordinator for New Roots, says that six of their graduates have gone on to buy property and start their own farms.

One of her favorite success stories is that of Khadijo, a Somali woman who was relocated to the U.S. a few years ago. Women are especially well-suited for the program, Rachel says, because they’re used to working hard to provide for their kids.

After four years in the New Roots program, Khadijo now drives her own van to the market to sell the food she’s grown. A mother of six, she’s recently purchased a home with a vacant lot where she’s planted vegetables and fruit trees.

“She loves being able to raise her kids in the garden,” says Rachel.

While the learning curve is steep for refugees like Khadijo, they’re not the only ones who learn from New Roots.

“When our farmers sell their vegetables at the markets, it gives families here in Kansas City the opportunity to interact with people that they might never interact with otherwise—we get to bridge cultures both ways.”

The best part about working with refugee farmers, says Rachel, is the chance to offer homes and security to people who have felt unsettled for years.

“Being able to grow your own food is so important—especially for people who haven’t felt safe or felt self-determination over their lives in a really long time,” says Rachel. “Food is so tied into feeling like we’re home.”

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Comments (1)


  1. Friday Odds and Ends | Atlantaid writes:
    November 15, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    […] Idealist reports on a Kansas City organization helping […]


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