by Sarah Risely, Assistant Program Director
Reflecting on last season as we prepare for this season!
It is 8 a.m. on a Saturday and you can already smell the sticky August heat—today is going to be another hot one. Like clockwork everyone drives up and parks or strolls in across the field, armed with sunhats to beat the heat and laundry baskets for harvesting. Morning greetings come in English and Burmese, and then everyone gets to work.
We start our day by walking among the rows of roselle, bitter gourd, mustard, and long beans—hunting for (and squishing) pests and making plans for daily projects. Lifting up a row cover, Lu Lu spots tiny green sprouts and shouts out “Look! Oh look they grew!” Ree Lay and Than Tin valiantly yank out Bermuda grass, while Mu Mu cuts mustards and discovers a softball-sized watermelon beneath the leaves—“We will wait until Wednesday to harvest,” she says. In the next plot Ma Ree Yar skillfully sharpens bamboo into trellises and then cuts a bunch of zinnias to bring home to her daughter.
This garden is a special place. The gardeners are a long way from home: refugees from Burma who have arrived at this piece of earth thanks to the Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee, but more importantly thanks to their own love for growing and a desire to begin again in a new place. The garden is a place for them to come and be with friends and to share with their families and children. Refugees can make a big impact on their own families and communities by bringing fresh produce to the table, while at the same time strengthening their own health and wellbeing. In the often tumultuous and challenging time of resettlement, the garden is a place of consistency and growth.
With the heat we all rest in the shade of the two willow trees on the property. Removing hats and wiping shining brows, the gardeners talk about their day and sort through the fruits from their garden plots. “I am going to make kimchi!” exclaims Ja Sam. Saying goodbye, they help each other load up and then drive off with baskets of fresh vegetables to take home and share with family and friends.