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Local farmer’s market part of refugee resettlement program

BY HALLIE O’NEILL

The Global Greens farmer’s market, tucked away in the parking lot of the Lutheran Services of Iowa (LSI) on University Avenue, is easy to overlook despite the hand-scrawled “FARMERS MARKET OPEN” sign along the street. Like the market that takes place downtown, this one occurs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. However, it embodies a much different spirit.

Usually, the little market is comprised of less than 10 makeshift tents. But as one approaches the scene, its liveliness compensates for its physical size.

Last Saturday, vibrant instrumental music reverberated across the lot. Some vendors danced along, one woman shouting, “Welcome, welcome!” as she shook back and forth. A young girl twirled around in circles at the center of the market, grinning widely at customers.

The model for the Global Greens program began unofficially in 2010. At that time, LSI was mostly focused on resettlement for refugees and helping individuals establish themselves within their new communities.

But during a road trip to a conference in D.C., Economic Development Supervisor Mickey Goggin noticed the refugees watching the farmland outside their car windows in admiration.

Since most individuals come from farming backgrounds anyway, both the desire and the tact were there.

“We thought we’d develop more programming … to help refugees with more long-term kind of goals,” Goggin said. “So, while that resettlement piece was often focused on the first six months or the first year, we thought, ‘Why don’t we develop some programming that helps them when they’ve been here a little longer?’”

The coordinators at LSI began by creating a few small community gardens throughout the city. Today, there are 18 total community gardens utilized by 280 refugee families in the Des Moines area.

The produce at the Saturday farmer’s market, however, comes mainly from a larger farming site in West Des Moines at the Valley Community Center, LSI’s partner in this initiative. The site covers an expanse of 6.5 acres of farmland which is tended by 20 advanced refugee farmers and their families.

LSI aids refugees in on-site training as well as classroom lessons, and this knowledge can then be applied to the field. Although many refugees have prior agriculture experience, Goggin said it’s more about navigating a new climate.

Much of Goggin’s job is to provide economic opportunities for refugee farmers, whether that entails growing food simply for the refugee’s own household or something bigger.

“Eventually, they can run their own small-scale farming business,” Goggin said. “And that’s the ultimate goal of the program, is to get to that level.”

Simon Bucumi is a refugee farmer who sells his produce at both the Global Greens market and the Iowa Co-operative. Bucumi is from Burundi, East Africa and has been farming his entire life.

For Bucumi, farming is a family affair. His wife sells their goods at the downtown market, and all eight of his children help with the process.

“When they’re not at school, they’re here helping me,” Bucumi said.

Goggin encourages Drake students and members of the Drake community to check out the weekly market, which is less than a one-minute walk from the edge of Drake’s campus.

“When people come to visit the market, they can learn more about where our farmers are from and some of the things they face,” Goggin said. “Folks can learn more about what it’s like (to be a refugee).”

For those interested in learning more about the work accomplished at LSI, Professor Melissa Sturm-Smith’s LEAD 100 course will be hosting an event titled “In Their Shoes: A Refugee’s Experience.” The event will be held on Nov. 14 in Parents Hall in Upper Olmsted from 5:30-7 p.m.

Event attendees will receive an interactive chance to talk about the journeys of refugees to Iowa, learn about LSI’s involvement with refugee resettlement and meet with refugees. Admission into this event will cost $2 for those with a valid Drake I.D. and $10 for those without one.

The Global Greens Farmers market will run until the end of October if the weather permits. More information about Global Greens, refugee services and volunteer opportunities with LSI can be found at www.lsiowa.org.

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