Sweet Summer and Bitter Gourds

Sweet Summer and Bitter Gourds

After two summers in East Africa I decided that I wanted to get some hands on experience with development in Nashville, my hometown. Thanks to a quick Google search I found the Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee, loved what they were doing, and asked if they would be interested in taking on an intern. I convinced them to say yes, so I’ve been learning and working alongside them ever since. Every day is an opportunity to learn how to use a new tool to grow a new plant in a new way for a new purpose. Beyond that I have developed a new appreciation for the value of food, the value of partnership, and the value of home.

The Value of Food

 Y’all – this gardening stuff is no joke. It is hard. As a college student I have spent many hours in the grocery store thinking, “Wowza, that’s an expensive apple!” Now I look at the greens that the CRIT gardeners are selling and think, “They shouldn’t charge a cent under $100 per leaf.” Growing healthy and sustainable food takes so much time, effort, sweat, dirt, and occasionally blood. And who knows when you could lose it all to a beetle! In a society that often feels separated from agrarian life it is easy to get a false sense of the worth of our food. Going to the garden to pull weeds, prepare soil, seed new plants, twine tomatoes, pull weeds, dig holes, squish bugs, mulch raised beds, pull weeds, and watch the other gardeners do the same and more has helped me to see food as a worthwhile investment in my health and community rather than an incessant expenditure. 

The Value of Partnership

Partnership in the development sphere is often easier to talk about than it is to practice, but the CRIT gardens have shown me an incredible image of what partnership should look like. CRIT offers land and training to refugees who have recently moved to Nashville and in turn these people diligently work to grow food that strengthens their family, stimulates the local economy, and benefits Nashville restaurants with sustainable and healthy foods. Even people who can barely speak English are enabled to positively impact their new community with the resources that the community offers. From exotic foods sold to local restaurants to resourceful ideas on how to trellis tomatoes to sharing a laugh about how hot it is in the garden, everyone involved is empowered to learn, share, and grow.

The Value of Home

When I started looking for something to do this summer I had just one qualification: it had to be at home. After spending several summers away it has been so great to spend time with my friends and family. The saying still holds true: there’s no place like home. But finding home is not so simple for a refugee who has been forcibly removed from their home. That’s why these gardens exist. They’re pieces of Burma and Nepal. They’re places where refugees can go out and farm like they did at home, grow bitter gourds and noodle beans like they did at home, speak like they did at home, and build community like they did at home. The CRIT gardens aren’t mere income generators or a means of integrating cultures. The gardens are a place for people to come home.

Bitter Gourd

Bitter Gourd

Chinese Red Noodle Bean

Chinese Red Noodle Bean

Transplants: The Broccoli and the Burmese

Transplants: The Broccoli and the Burmese

76 Lessons from a True Hero

76 Lessons from a True Hero