International Rescue Committee Program Connects Refugees With the Land

Brian Snyder/Corbis

Farmers driven off their land in places like Somalia or Bhutan have counted themselves lucky to be alive if they survive in refugee camps, and luckier still if they are resettled in the United States. But the International Rescue Committee, which works with millions of refugees around the world, realized that for many of them, the ties to the soil and to the life it brings are hard to replace. The IRC's program, now operating in 14 cities, aims to fill that emotional gap. A former garbage dump in the Bronx now flourishes as a vegetable garden tilled by refugees; an Uzbek man grows watermelons in Arizona with seeds from his birthplace; 80 immigrants and their families work a community farm on 2.3 acres in San Diego. People from countries as different as Iraq, Sudan, and Cuba "are transforming urban landscapes into lush, verdant, bountiful gardens and farms," says IRC spokesperson Lucy Carrigan. In some cities they are able to sell their produce at local farmers' markets and supplement their incomes. But the most important benefit comes when a refugee begins to feel, as Woody Guthrie sang in his great American anthem, that "this land is your land."