For refugees living in America, adapting to a new way of life can be incredibly difficult. But being surrounded by familiar things can help ease the transition.
That’s what The Refugee Response’s Refugee Empowerment Agricultural Program (REAP) aims to accomplish. Supported by federal grants, the program includes several agricultural efforts throughout the country. There, refugees can use the land as a kind of classroom. They can work in familiar environments while improving their English and adjusting to a new community.
But the program also works as a kind of business model providing work for recent refugees in addition to a product in the form of food that might not currently be as available in the U.S. market.
Margaret Fitzpatrick, farm manager at the Ohio City Farm, and her team decided to launch their program in Cleveland upon realizing that about 80 percent of refugees settling in the area had a background in agriculture. She explained to TakePart:
“We wondered, ‘How do we start from where people are when they arrive, rather than lead them into a job where everything is new, on top of the culture and language?’ Agriculture seemed like the perfect vehicle for doing that. People who have done something with their hands their entire life—to be able to keep that one bit of consistency is incredibly comforting to the people who come here.”
But it isn’t just a charitable effort. Aside from just helping workers adapt to new surroundings, the REAP program also provides niche food items that are often hard to find in the U.S. So in addition to helping the program’s “employees” to adapt, it also provides food items that are widely available in other parts of the world but not so much in the U.S. So even those who don’t work at the farms can find pieces of home in their new communities.
In addition, many of the REAP programs are run in areas that don’t have much in the way of quality, locally grown produce. So even regular consumers who just want something fresher than they can find in a chain grocery store can enjoy the offerings from these farm stands. And they can learn about some new food items in the process.
Image: Ohio City Farm