Refugee gardening projects, nice idea but require taxpayer subsidy

Your tax dollars

I’ve been meaning to write for some time about these refugee gardening projects popping up everywhere these days.  I suspect they have some connection to an Obama Administration promotion involving “Lady” Michelle Obama’s White House gardening project.  

It’s a nice idea, I have a little garden myself.  These small plots can add to a family’s fresh food for a brief period during the growing season in North America and that is a good thing, however, any notion that this is the way to feed millions of people or to take American agriculture back to a simpler time is living in la-la land.  I’ve lived on a farm for 30 years (I had a dreamworld idea too!) and I can tell you the average American farm family cannot make it on farming alone—even with hundreds of acres! This is no place to get into the problems with American agriculture, suffice it to say, it is a lovely image but far removed from reality.

Here is the story from Idaho earlier in the week that got me thinking about this again and reminded me that I had forgotten to tell you about a California refugee gardening project that “Lady” Michelle visited last spring.

Global Gardens is a program of the Idaho Office for Refugees. We sponsor refugee agriculture projects at 8 locations in Boise, Eagle, and Star and provide garden or farm space for around 100 refugee families as well as training in horticultural production and marketing.

We have 5 sites that are community gardens, where families can get a small space and grow vegetables for their families. We don’t offer any community garden spaces for non-refugees at this time, but please check out the “Community Gardens” page for more information on community gardening.

Doesn’t this make you feel all warm and good.  Picture colorful refugees out working their bits of land and producing healthful, and colorful, fruits and vegetables to sell at colorful farm markets where their industriousness is turned into some income for their colorful growing family.  But, who really pays for all this image-making—you do as the Idaho’s Global Gardens goes on to tell us!

We receive funding from the federal Office for Refugee Resettlement. We also receive many local donations in cash and in kind. The Somali Bantu Farm in Eagle received a grant in 2008 from Heifer International’s New Immigrant Farming Initiative and recently received a grant from the USDA’s Farmer’s Market Promotion Program.

A model for the nation and the world!

Same story in California where “Lady” Michelle Obama visited in April.  And, no kidding, the AP article refers to First Lady Michelle Obama as “Lady.”

Returning from Mexico, Michelle Obama made a brief stop Thursday in San Diego to visit a community garden farmed by international refugees that she called a model for building healthy communities across the nation and around the world.

Obama toured the New Roots Community Farm to promote her “Let’s Move!” campaign against childhood obesity. The event kicked off a $1 billion project by The California Endowment to fund healthy living initiatives in 14 communities across the state, including the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego, where the community farm is located.

You fund the International Rescue Committee and probably some of the California Endowment as well!

Some 80 farmers from a dozen countries work at the 2.3-acre farm, a project of the International Rescue Committee that started in June 2009 on city-owned land. Many grow vegetables, like kale, that they grew in the native countries they left because of civil wars and other violence.

“It’s a model for the nation, for the world,” Obama said after touring the 89 plots, where she hugged the farmers, including a Somalian woman who had Obama’s picture and a map of Africa printed on her traditional bright blue dress [colorful!].

The garden provides fresh produce to the refugees and their families. Some of the fruits and vegetables also are sold at a farmers market and to local restaurants, giving the refugees some income. About 90 percent of the farmers have been unable to find a job because they do not have the skills or do not speak English [90 percent!]

I bet you are saying I’m such a cynic.  But, really, all I want is for us to be honest about what is happening. Refugees have no jobs so let’s make them look like they are taking care of themselves by growing their own food in a time-honored and colorful American way—with a little help from the taxpayers of course.

Oh, and it sure doesn’t look like its reducing the number of Food Stamp recipients as we learned yesterday.

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