Buy Local, Eat Global
On a cool morning in March, a group of nine refugees and their families from Bhutan and Burma, gathered on a former soccer field behind Christ Lutheran Church in South Nashville, anticipating a new beginning.
They would soon receive plot numbers for about 1,600 square foot plots each, which they would transform from brown grass to a lush patchwork of komatsuna, arugula, tomatoes, peppers and purple yard long beans hanging from vines.
“We started with land, eager farmers and a desire to have meaningful programming,” says Lauren Bailey, the program manager for the Nashville Food Project’s Growing Together program. “As we come to the close of our second season, I look back and see all the progress that’s been made--not to mention all the beautiful produce that’s been grown.
The refugees came to America with a lifetime of farming skills. What they didn’t bring was the ability to purchase land to farm on. Enter Growing Together. The program obtained its initial funding through a federal grant called the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program. Two local nonprofits, The Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee and The Nashville Food Project, have been responsible for overseeing the program, which provided land, tools, training and seeds.
The first year the refugees were growing for their families and community. But this year they have been growing produce more familiar to their native land such as komatsuna, roselle, yard long beans, Nepali mustard, pumpkin shoots, daikon radish and hakurei turnips.
As a result, they’ve expanded their reach to include not just their community, but the Nashville Farmer’s Market, Two Ten Jack restaurant and the online food co-op, Nashville Grown.
Chef Jessica Benefield, of Two Ten Jack said “we were so excited to hear the Farmers were interested in growing items specifically for us; specialty produce like shishito peppers & heirloom daikon. It was wonderful to learn about items new to us too, like the Roselle.”
Over the summer, Benefield incorporated greens into bowls of ramen and tatsoi into salads or offered produce on special menus. She served arugula and tomato in a chilled mazemen-style ramen and prepared eggplant yakitori-style with a miso sauce.
Indeed, chefs from Bastion, Le Sel, Rolf and Daughters, and The Treehouse are getting inspired from the exotic bounty.
Meanwhile, the farmers have been empowered with supplemental income while learning more about growing food in this country and making business connections and friends.
“When I walk with the farmers each week to look at what produce they will have for Nashville Grown, I see the pride they have in growing food. I think with more exposure this year, they’ve been able to share that sense of pride and joy with others that have purchased from them,” Bailey said. “I’m very proud to know these individuals; I see many of them working outside the farm, whether that be at home or at another job, and yet, their commitment to growing food is consistent. Their commitment inspires and challenges me.”
To learn more or get involved with Growing Together, visit thenashvillefoodproject.org/growingtogether.