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South Salt Lake Journal

Refugees learn skills through community gardens and farmers markets

Sep 08, 2020 02:55PM ● By Bill Hardesty

New Roots Community Garden at Central Park. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

Among the many farmers markets across the Salt Lake Valley, the Sunnyvale Farmers Market and the New Roots Farmers Market are unique because they offer the opportunity for refugees to develop self-reliance.


The Sunnyvale Farmer Market is held at the Sunnyvale Park (4013 S. 700 West) each Saturday until October 24 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

The New Roots Farmers Market is held in two locations every Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The locations are Central Park (2797 S. 200 East) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) office (221 S. 400 West).

The participating refugees work on two farms leased through Salt Lake County. One is a 2-acre farm in West Valley City and the other is a 13-acre farm in Draper. The farming is part of a microtraining farm program conducted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

As Abdullah Saboon displayed his produce for sale, he said, “I farmed in the Sudan and farming is the same. But here we use more machines.”

Not only do refugees learn farming on a larger scale, they also grow produce common to countries around the world but are difficult to find in Salt Lake City.

Another unique part of these markets is how shoppers pay for the produce. The markets work on a token system. The tokens are purchased before entering the market using some form of credit card. This is done because for those individuals who use EBT/SNAP cards, which are government food assistance programs, their purchasing power is doubled with funds from the state administered through the Department of Health. A shopper must spend at least $20 with their EBT/SNAP card and they get $20 to buy additional produce. 

The markets are popular so getting there early is a wise idea.

Community gardening

The Community Gardening Program is working with over 120 families in 11 garden sites across the Salt Lake Valley. One such garden is located at Central Park in SSL.

IRC supplies seeds, seedlings, and instruction on best gardening practices in Utah. This helps ensure a bountiful harvest. The food is used as supplemental food for participants. Not only does the program provide food, but it also provides a sense of community for refugees. 

International Rescue Committee

The farmers markets and the community gardens are part of the IRC’s New Roots program.

“The New Roots program enables refugees to celebrate their heritage and nourish themselves and their neighbors by planting strong roots—literally—in their new communities,” according to the IRC website.

The IRC has operated in Salt Lake City since 1994.

“Over that 25-year history in Utah, we have welcomed over 11,000 refugees and served thousands more through our breadth of innovative programs designed to empower refugees, and other new Americans, to create stable families and prosper as they positively integrate into life in the Salt Lake community,” Natalie El-Deir, executive director for IRC Salt Lake City.

Since 1994, the IRC has resettled nearly 12,000 refugees in the state and have helped many more with additional programs.

In Salt Lake City, the help for a refugee begins well before they arrive. The IRC makes sure newly arrived refugees receive a furnished and supplied home, temporary help with rent, access to health care, English classes, and help with education and job skills.

In addition to these efforts, the IRC in Salt Lake City offers immigration services, Spice Kitchen Incubator, New Roots, microtraining farming program, and the East African Refugee Goat projects of Utah.

Because of the pandemic, the use of volunteers is limited, but are still needed. Contact [email protected]

In a larger sense, the IRC “responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future. In more than 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities, our dedicated teams provide clean water, shelter, health care, education and empowerment support to refugees and displaced people,” according to the IRC website.

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