Growing Together Opens New Garden
By Annie Prafcke
20 May 2021
On April 15th, Growing Together held a groundbreaking for the opening of its newest gardens at Gethsemane Cathedral. The space, which consists of two plots, is Growing Together’s seventh garden location in Fargo. Run by volunteers and focused on supporting New Americans, Growing Together offers opportunities for gardeners of all backgrounds to learn from each other.
Growing Together planted its first seeds in 2006. Community leaders, along with tomato-grower Jack Wood, started a garden as a way to better engage with the New American community. The initial garden was on a 100 ft X 100 ft plot and tended to by eight families, all of whom had emigrated from countries across Africa. At the onset, the space had separate sections for shared gardens and individual plots. However, the group quickly discovered that the most prosperous areas were the ones in which everyone gardened together.
Growing Together now has grown to include gardens at seven locations serving over 150 families. All are shared gardens or family gardens, so volunteers put in 2-3 hours weekly and divide the produce evenly. In 2019, the Growing Together gardens produced roughly 65,000 pounds of food. Excess produce was donated to local food pantries such as the Emergency Food Pantry and Dorothy Day.
Jack Wood estimates that today, about 75% of Growing Together’s gardeners are Bhutanese, but volunteers have also come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, and India. Others are F-M locals.
According to the ND Human Services Committee, between 2012 and 2017, 3,084 refugees were resettled in North Dakota, the majority of whom are Bhutanese, Iraqi, or Somali. 74% of those refugees were resettled in Fargo or West Fargo.
Yet, refugees face major challenges even once they’ve resettled. As reported by the LA Times, while North Dakota has been a national leader in refugee resettlement, the closed-border political rhetoric and policy of the previous administration has ignited anti-immigrant attitudes. Furthermore, food insecurity is a major concern. In 2017, 4,295 refugees in North Dakota were using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The COVID-19 pandemic has not made life any easier for refugees. Daniel Hannaher, Field Office Director of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), shared data from a national survey LIRS and Immigration Policy Lab (IPL) conducted in August 2020. He says that in the survey, they found that while 87% of refugees still report going to work in-person, 50% reported “not at all confident” or “somewhat confident” that their household could afford sufficient food in the next four weeks.
Rosaline (Rose) Swarray has been gardening with Growing Together since its onset. She first arrived in Fargo as a refugee from Liberia in 2005. At the time, she was a single mother with four kids. She says it was difficult to find the healthy produce she was used to eating in her home country. It was also expensive. She used to drive roughly 236 miles from Fargo to Minneapolis to purchase food. Now that she volunteers at the gardens and receives a portion of the produce, she says she can store greens and vegetables all winter.
“When they give me the food, I have enough. I have to share with my friends,” she says.
She is also thankful that the gardens have provided her and her children with the opportunity to meet kind people from around the world.
“We have Potlucks. We have different foods. It’s fun,” she says. “Before COVID, every year at Christmas, they have a party. They bring gifts for all of our kids. They have been so nice to us inside the garden.”
Swarray also says that gardening provides her with an opportunity to spend more time outside with her family.
“From the beginning to the end, I just love it because [during] summertime you don’t have anything to do,” she says. “You come back form work and you’re just in the house. The kids are in the house. [At the gardens], you can take them outside to go and get fresh air.”
Jack Wood says that Growing Together encourages mutual learning between people who have only lived in North Dakota and immigrants who are new to the area. Rose Swarray has taught many gardeners how certain plants considered weeds in the West, such as Lamb’s Quarter and Pig’s Weed, are actually nutritious greens. Gardeners who grew up in the Midwest have demonstrated how unripe green tomatoes can be fried and eaten.
While Wood asserts that most people have been welcoming of Growing Together’s New American volunteers. Yet, he states that when they started their 25th St. Garden in 2006, some neighbors were resistant to their presence. After witnessing the gardeners’ dedication and the respectful way they treat the land, Wood says attitudes changed.
Jack Wood believes that with the proper resources and positive mindsets, Growing Together’s garden model can benefit any community. He says, “We feel that this garden could work anywhere in the world. It takes leadership and forming that community.”
And the benefits are abundant. Rose Swarray says the gardens provide her with everything she needs - fresh food, fellowship, and family.
She says, “Agriculture is life. Food is life. If you do your gardening, you have everything.”
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