Global Gardens has been a lifeline for Boise’s local refugee population, but after losing key grant money, the program is scrambling to find new funding.
It started 15 years ago through the Idaho Office for Refugees, initially as a way for new immigrants to grow and sell food from their home countries, but the program grew quickly and now is a farmers market staple and a wholesale provider to area restaurants. There are now 12 urban farms around town and about 200 participants.
Mohammed Ali Abood started growing vegetables and mushrooms through the program earlier this year. He’s from Iraq and was an interpreter for the U.S. Army. He first came to Boise in 2013; for now, he works full time in food service for the Boise School District, but he’s hoping to expand his growing operation.
“Mainly, we grow Oyster mushrooms, but we’ve tried like some other species, like Lion’s Mane, shiitake.”
He said Global Gardens supported him in starting his business this season. Beyond the agricultural knowledge, it gave him a place to grow mushrooms and vegetables and other skills.
The program has expanded over the years from a hobby garden to farms that supply restaurants and farmers markets.
Tara Wolfson is the director of the Idaho Office for Refugees — a nonprofit that supports refugee resettlement. She said many participants have agricultural knowledge when they arrive in the U.S., but the program teaches them things like marketing, how to fill out tax forms and growing in a new climate.
“Imagine you arrived in China and you were going to become a rice farmer. You might might have been a really good gardener in Boise, Idaho,” Wolfson said, “[In] China, you might have to learn some new things about the climate, how you plant rice, how you irrigate.”
But all this could be going away. Three of the four grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture were not renewed, but Wolfson is trying to stay optimistic.
“Global Gardens is looking at this as danger equals opportunity or action. So we are diversifying our funding,” she said
Wolfson said they have reduced staff hours and cut a staff member since the end of September. They’ve launched a community fundraising campaign and hope to raise $50,000 by January.
The money will go to train new gardners like Abood. Existing gardeners who are turning a profit already by selling what they grow are probably not in danger.
Abood can extend his operation into the colder months because he grows some of the mushrooms inside. He continues to deliver to restaurants, and while this isn’t his full time job, the extra money helps supplement his income and next year he hopes to expand.
“I could do farmers market and at the same time I can do a lot of experiments on my mushrooms.”
And Wolfson said besides the extra money, the program has another underlying benefit. She says it puts a human face on refugees. They are interacting with the community, and that’s especially important in this current national anti-refugee climate.
“It connects people. You know, you understand, you get to know him. You hear about the birth of his children. You hear about the success of his business. Then you really are like, oh, this is who the media is telling me to be scared of, this guy is just like me.”
About 100 people have donated to the program and Wolfson hopes continued support will keep the program flourishing for future gardeners.
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