Meet the Refugee Farmers Raising the Crops of Their Homelands From Texas Soil


Krishna Bista matured on a varied farm in her native Bhutan, where her household cultivated sweet potatoes, ginger, corn, wheat, millet, citrus and cardamom. At age 30, she was required to look for asylum in Nepal, and for the next 19 years, she was not able to work or grow her own food.

” I needed to depend on others to consume, and it was actually challenging,” states Bista, who is among 6 refugee farmers utilized by New Leaf Agriculture, a 20-acre natural operation situated in Manor, Texas. “I’m pleased now, since I can feed myself and I have buddies and a support group, thanks to New Leaf.”

When Bista was approved refugee status in 2010, she started taking English classes at Central Presbyterian Church in Austin, 14 miles west of Manor. It existed she satisfied Meg Erskine, co-founder and CEO of the Multicultural Refugee Coalition (MRC), the non-profit that supervises New Leaf and a fabric production studio situated at the church.

MRC’s 2 social business were developed to supply refugees and asylees from conventional farming and sewing cultures with training and dignified work that reconnects them to their particular occupations. “Working with these individuals every day, it’s really clear that self-sufficiency remains in their blood,” states Matt Simon, New Leaf’s farming director. “Being able to reclaim some control over their lives when they’ve formerly had none is empowering.”

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Krishna Bista matured on a varied farm in her native Bhutan. (Photo courtesy Leia Vita/Farmers’ Footprint)

The public-facing farm, which was developed in 2017, uses refugee farmers to cultivate crops for its CSA, Austin’s Mueller and Lakeline farmers’ markets and regional dining establishments and makers. New Leaf assists refugees who aren’t staff members by contributing 90 of its CSA shares weekly to households in requirement, in collaboration with the Center for Survivors of Torture and the Austin Independent School District.

New Leaf likewise runs a neighborhood farmer program, developed in the fall of 2022, that offers refugees with little plots and products so they can cultivate their own culturally preferred crops. With grant financing from Travis County, New Leaf purchases all of these crops (consisting of those taken in by farmers and their households) and disperses them complimentary of charge within their particular neighborhoods.

The advantages of assisting displaced immigrants end up being self-dependent after years of instability are lots of. “Most social business programs is concentrated on life abilities and task positioning,” states Simon. “This is various since we’re in fact offering them with the possessions they require to feed their households. Our objective for this program is to enhance and equip our farmers with the abilities and understanding needed for running their own farming company, ought to they pick to do so.”

For Doli Wikongo, a refugee farmer staff member who matured cultivating bananas and rice in her native Congo, New Leaf has actually been a lifeline. “[It’s] assisted me to absorb significantly,” she states. “The farm is a neighborhood of immigrants, primarily from Africa and Asia. We’re culturally comparable since we generally grow the exact same crops, share resources and reside in huge, family-oriented groups, so we see one another as extended household.”

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Doli Wikongo at New Leaf Agriculture’s farm. (Photo courtesy Leia Vita/Farmers’ Footprint)

After showing up in the United States in 2013 with her 5 kids, Wikongo and her teenaged child Wandaka started offering at Farmlink, MRC’s predecessor to New Leaf. The farming collaboration lay at Austin’s Green Gate Farms and supplied a method for refugees from farming cultures to keep their hands in the soil and get complimentary fruit and vegetables in exchange for a number of hours’ of work every week.

It was Wandaka who eventually ended up being the driver for New Leaf in 2017, states Simon. The then 17-year-old was likewise included with Future Farmers of America through his high school and understood well the significance of farming programs for refugee immigrants. In early 2017, the owner of Green Gate Farms presented Wandaka to a regional grower who was renting land from a guy called Jon Beall.

” Wandaka discovered that there was a fair bit of unutilized arrive on Beall’s home, so he asked Jon if MRC might rent the acreage,” states Simon. “Jon enjoyed to do so, and our very first growing season was the spring of 2018. Wandaka, who is now participating in university in France, was our very first farm supervisor.”

Doli Wikongo and Bista were likewise 2 of New Leaf’s very first refugee farmer staff members. The females are now team chiefs for the general public farm program and supervise 4 other refugee farmers from Burma and Congo. Together, the farm team cultivates and gathers more than 50 various crops consisting of treasure peppers, melons, summer season and winter season squash, okra, brassicas, greens and botanicals such as Mexican mint marigold, which is utilized as a fabric color.

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Wikongo and Bista supervise the farm team. ( Photo courtesy Leia Vita/Farmers’ Footprint)

The beginning spend for refugee farmers is “competitive with other licensed natural farms in the area and in fact greater than some little, household farm supervisors make,” states Simon. “We likewise offer annual raises and paid time off.” The farmers likewise get twice-weekly internal ESL classes and routine conferences with MRC’s case supervisor. To assist them browse healthcare and other advantages, New Leaf links the farmers to pertinent regional companies such as Foundation Communities and Manos de Cristo.

New Leaf released its neighborhood farmer program in the fall of 2022 as a method for refugees to grow their own food and make additional earnings. Each of the 24 neighborhood farmers, consisting of Bista and Wikongo, are assigned a 750-square-foot plot together with farm executes and natural fertilizer; they originate from conventional farming cultures consisting of Congo, Burma, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

The neighborhood farmers grow culturally preferable crops such as amaranth, numerous kinds of peppers and eggplants, red noodle beans, roselle hibiscus and more. Bista cultivates daikon radish, brassicas, kale, beets, winter season squash and blisteringly hot Dalle Khursani peppers, which she contributes to gundruk, a fermented meal made from the leaves of mustard greens or cauliflower. Bista utilizes daikon for achar, a pickle seasoned with numerous spices and chiles. “I primarily make pickles and veggies,” she states. “It makes me really pleased to consume the food I had maturing in Bhutan.”

Bista’s child Bal is New Leaf’s chicken and greenhouse supervisor, and he and his in-laws likewise have neighborhood farmer plots. Any remaining crops not utilized by the Bistas and their loved ones are offered to their next-door neighbors.

Wikongo and her 2 teenaged children grow cauliflower, cabbage, green onions, numerous greens and winter season squash. She utilizes the leaves from the squash for bishusha, a meal generally made with pumpkin greens. After boiling the leaves to eliminate their tough external layer, she cooks them with tomatoes and a little whipping cream, to be served over rice.

” If I have enough veggies to feed my household, I’ll offer the rest to my buddies or offer it back to New Leaf,” states Wikongo. “We have a Congolese neighborhood here in Austin and New Leaf provides food to among our churches.”

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Wikongo and her children grow cauliflower, cabbage, squash and more. (Photo courtesy Leia Vita/Farmers’ Footprint)

Mang Thian Cing, a refugee from Burma, grows roselle hibiscus, to name a few crops, on her assigned land. The plant’s tart flowers are utilized for tea in Burma, and the lemony-tasting greens (referred to as chin baung hin ywet, or sour leaf), are contributed to soup or utilized in chin baung kyaw, fried roselle leaves and bamboo shoots flavored chiles, onion, shrimp paste and fish sauce.

Learning to farm in an environment like Texas’s is difficult, even for farmers like Wikongo who are from tropical areas, since there are distinctions in botany and method, she states. “In Congo, the seeds are larger, so we simply plant them in the ground. Here, the seeds are smaller sized and it’s needed to begin them in a greenhouse.” She has actually likewise discovered to modify and blend soil and location watering pipelines in a manner that optimizes water circulation.

Despite the weather extremes and absence of constant rains, Wikongo enjoys farming and considers it her irreversible occupation. “It’s what I wish to do,” she states. “If you operate in the fields, it keeps you healthy and active. I’m able to do so far more.”


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