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South Salt Lake Journal

Community gardens allows refugees to connect with the land and others

Sep 30, 2020 04:03PM ● By Bill Hardesty

At the Central Park Community Garden, refugees work 4-foot by 20-foot plots. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

At Central Park, among the soccer fields, basketball courts and pickleball courts, a community garden is growing. The garden is sponsored by the New Roots Initiative, which is a program of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in conjunction with Wasatch Community Gardens.

The community garden here is one of two in South Salt Lake. A larger one is located at the Central Valley Reclamation Facility on the west side of the city.

Central Park Community Garden

Each plot in the garden is 4-feet by 20-feet and there are 23 families working the plots. The plots are designed to raise food for a family. In a survey done last year at the Central Valley Community garden, 88% of participants reported saving on groceries. It was estimated that 41 families saved $5,650 together. If a family wants to grow more, they can apply for a second plot or participate in the microfarming training program also sponsored by the IRC.

“I think it is helpful and empowering for refugees to use the skills they already have in their new community home,” said Sarah Adams, the New Roots community garden coordinator.

The garden was built in 2015. Promise SSL provided the land and the irrigation system. New Roots provide tools, seeds and, in some cases seedlings. They also provide workshops during the winter on how to grow in the Utah climate and how to improve the soil. They also help during the growing season.

The planting season starts in early to mid-March and runs until November. For the first two years, the garden is free. Afterward, gardeners are responsible for the plot fee, which ranges from $20 to $40. 

They try to assign plots geographically so that it is easy for gardeners to come to their plot.

Unique garden

Besides the typical tomatoes and corn found in most gardens, refugees grow produce from their home countries. For example, they grow pumpkins not just for the pumpkins, but they cut off the pumpkin leaves and sauté them with tomatoes and onions. 

Another plant popular with Nepalese and Bhutanese refugees is the Amaranth plant. They cultivate it as a leaf vegetable. For most other gardeners, it's a summer annual weed and are commonly referred to as pigweeds.

Mustard greens, okra, eggplant, African bird pepper, taro, and roselle are also popular plants.

Refugee growth

The biggest advantage of the community gardens is providing access to fresh produce for refugee families.

Besides just providing fresh food, community gardens help refugees with a support group. As they tend to their crops, the talk and share. Garden time becomes social time both within their culture and across cultures. 

A community garden provides an opportunity for refugees to use their strong agricultural skills in a country where they are trying to learn so much.

A plot also gives refugees a sense of ownership in a world where they own little. It also provides a connection with the land which is something most refugees had before coming to America.

Families can apply online through the IRC website or through community centers or refugee services.


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