Surprisingly, a once abandoned lot in South Philadelphia allows refugees from two little known nations in southern Asia to feel more at home while integrating them into their new lives in the United States.
This lot houses Growing Home, the new refugee community farm project in South Philadelphia established by the Nationalities Service Center (NSC). This reclaimed lot will provide refugees from Bhutan and Burma (Union of Myammar) with a place to grow fresh vegetables indigenous to their previous homes.
Located at 732 Emily St., the garden allows the mothers and elders in those refugee communities to get involved and stay active. According to the NSC, while the Burmese and Bhutanese refugees have been successful in securing employment in the community they are experiencing problems maintaining a healthy, nutritious diet in their new home. Growing Home will ensure gardeners and their families will have plenty of fresh vegetables daily. Along with providing affordable, nutritious produce, Growing Home hopes to become an economic garden having the refugees sell excess produce for profit.
The NSC, established in 1921, strives to integrate immigrants and refugees into American life. Growing Home is just one outreach program initiated to stimulate refugee interest in their new surroundings and garner community support.
But this garden goes beyond just providing produce and exercise, said Adam Forbes, the manager of this mini-farm. “It’s a space for people to be together, for families to create and learn together and for neighbors and friends to take part in growing their food.”
Each year, the NSC resettles over 4,000 refugees into the Greater Philadelphia area. The working class neighborhood of South Philly around the Growing Home garden is just one area. The project, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society and the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, is currently the only one of its kind in the city.
The Growing Home garden is a very recent development having only been cleared of weeds, debris and trash just a few months ago. The garden will produce from April to December with constant care and supervision from the refugees as well as representatives from the NSC. In accordance with the Eastern diet of these refugees, the garden is currently growing Asian vegetables, spices and herbs. Items include edibles like eggplant, a variety of peppers, Thai basil and mint. For just having started in April, the plots are teeming with growth and will likely continue that pattern into the summer.
The project hopes to use the garden for neighborhood parties and cookouts, inviting refugee families as well as other residents from the surrounding neighborhood. Although Growing Home is still in the early stages of development it seems to already be doing just as its name implies: growing families and the community together to create a home.