Category: Uncategorized

Refugee Agricultural Program prepares for growing season

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Agricultural Programs, Uncategorized

On a recent winter Monday in the meeting room of a local church, the farmers in the Refugee Agricultural Program of Middle Tennessee stood under fluorescent light rather than rays of sunshine. But with their training task of the day choosing seeds for planting, the room buzzed with the energy of hope and promise for a new season.

In the cooler months when the gardens offer more brown patches than green, growth continues in the form of preparation, training and relationship building. But beyond learning ways to market and work together—and hearing how the growing seasons differ in Tennessee than their native countries—the trainings help make deeper connections.

Participants build stronger relationships with one another; they learn with neighbors and members of their community and with other communities through selling their food.

“Sometimes farmers come to us with other issues that they are facing in life, such as the complicated nature of obtaining citizenship,” says Lauren Bailey, the Agricultural Programs Director at Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee. “In these moments, we’re faced with the opportunity to listen and to find ways to connect and advocate with our farmers. As our relationships grow, our understanding of our farmers’ lives grows.”

In March, the trainings move outside to the one-and-a-half acre Market Garden off Haywood Lane.


Each of the 11 farmers in the Refugee Agricultural Program’s Market Garden will have a plot measuring 12 feet by 120 feet (and 24 feet by 120 feet for second-year farmers).

The communal activity of growing food together hopefully helps participants assimilate to life here more naturally.

“Growing food brings us into contact with the earth we all share, with the traditions of agriculture that have kept our species alive, and spirit of abundance that pervades all well-cared for gardens,” says Christina Bentrup of The Nashville Food Project, CRIT’s partner in the Refugee Agricultural Program. “Participants build stronger relationships with each other, with the physical land, with neighbors and members of their community and with other communities through selling their food.”

Indeed, the farmers will be raising crops for their families and communities. But this year, they also will sell to restaurants, and they will offer their produce for purchase at a local farmers’ market. From this foundation of growing with the seasons, farmers can build upon their lives here to thrive even more independently.

“In five to ten years, our hope is that Nashville will be bustling with more community gardens made up of many different nationalities,” Lauren says. “We recognize the need for adapted resources to meet community members where they are and the need for land access. So really, our aim is to provide this for a small number of interested community members in hopes to strengthen this access for future community members.”

RISE at Apollo Middle School: My Perspective as an AmeriCorps Member

Posted by Ellen Larson to Uncategorized

Refugee and Immigrant Students Empowered (RISE) at Apollo Middle School

by Ashley Rice

My students at Apollo Middle School through the after school program are nothing less than remarkable. The first couple of weeks have opened up my mind to the possibilities of how far children can excel and achieve in their lives STARTING now. I have not worked with middle school kids in a while, but these children light my world up each and every day. My students are diverse ranging from nationality to personalities. They are very unique in their own ways. The students are very receptive and respectful to themselves and to the AmeriCorps members. I interact with the students by being down to earth and always attempting to relate to them. I am consistently trying to build a relationship with the students while building trust. We build trust by working together with enhancing projects, and the programming that is structured helps us to learn from each other. Apollo Middle School rocks, and I love my position as an AmeriCorps member!


RISE at Stonebrook: Sacrifices

Posted by Ellen Larson to Uncategorized

Refugee and Immigrant Students Empowered (RISE) at Stonebrook

by Brittany Long, RISE AmeriCorps Member

Last week a few of our Muslim students were absent from the RISE afterschool program because of their traditional holiday Eid- Al-Adha also known as The Feast of Sacrifice.  One of the things we really try to emphasize for RISE at Stonebrook is community and how important it is to work with each other and to understand each other’s stories.  So we decided to talk about the holiday, what it meant to them but decided to highlight the word sacrifice… what does it mean to sacrifice? We brainstormed different ways people we knew and loved had made sacrifices. One example since many of our students are refugees was coming to America. Their family left behind things they were familiar with, their job, their home; they left family and friends so their family could have a better future. We talked about how sometimes moms and dads have to work long hours, sacrificing time at home so that they can provide for the family. We talked about giving things to others who are in need can be a sacrifice.

That day we wrote in our journals a time when WE had to make a sacrifice. I love when things click and you see students start to grasp a concept!

One of my favorite journal entries was from a student who wrote about his little sister. He had a piece of candy, the last piece and was about to eat it when his sister decided she wanted it. Since it was the last piece he was reluctant to share and was determined to save it for himself. However he saw how much she wanted it and decided to make the sacrifice and give her the coveted piece.

This to us may not seem like much…. A piece of candy!?  But something small like this may mean much more to someone else. When you think about the circumstances, coming from a big family, having to share a lot and not having much of your own…. giving up a piece of candy can feel like a big sacrifice.

It was heartwarming, hearing the kids talk about how sometimes you have to give up things for the people you love or to show love to others.

Three Stonebrook students were selected to participate in the Nashville After Zone Alliance Leadership Retreat at Camp Widjiwagon during Fall Break. See photos below:

Sweet Summer & Bitter Gourds

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Agricultural Programs, Uncategorized

I’m Jessica and I’m the intern. I love cross-cultural agricultural development as a sustainable way to engage multiple cultures, needs, and skills for good. After two summers in East Africa I decided that I wanted to get some hands on experience with development in Nashville, my hometown. Thanks to a quick Google search I found CRIT, loved what they were doing, and asked if they would be interested in taking on an intern. I convinced them to say yes, so I’ve been learning and working alongside them ever since. Every day is an opportunity to learn how to use a new tool to grow a new plant in a new way for a new purpose. Beyond that I have developed a new appreciation for the value of food, the value of partnership, and the value of home.


The Value of Food

 Y’all – this gardening stuff is no joke. It is hard. As a college student I have spent many hours in the grocery store thinking, “Wowza, that’s an expensive apple!” Now I look at the greens that the CRIT gardeners are selling and think, “They shouldn’t charge a cent under $100 per leaf.” Growing healthy and sustainable food takes so much time, effort, sweat, dirt, and occasionally blood. And who knows when you could lose it all to a beetle! In a society that often feels separated from agrarian life it is easy to get a false sense of the worth of our food. Going to the garden to pull weeds, prepare soil, seed new plants, twine tomatoes, pull weeds, dig holes, squish bugs, mulch raised beds, pull weeds, and watch the other gardeners do the same and more has helped me to see food as a worthwhile investment in my health and community rather than an incessant expenditure.


The Value of Partnership

Partnership in the development sphere is often easier to talk about than it is to practice, but the CRIT gardens have shown me an incredible image of what partnership should look like. CRIT offers land and training to refugees who have recently moved to Nashville and in turn these people diligently work to grow food that strengthens their family, stimulates the local economy, and benefits Nashville restaurants with sustainable and healthy foods. Even people who can barely speak English are enabled to positively impact their new community with the resources that the community offers. From exotic foods sold to local restaurants to resourceful ideas on how to trellis tomatoes to sharing a laugh about how hot it is in the garden, everyone involved is empowered to learn, share, and grow.


The Value of Home

When I started looking for something to do this summer I had just one qualification: it had to be at home. After spending several summers away it has been so great to spend time with my friends and family. The saying still holds true: there’s no place like home. But finding home is not so simple for a refugee who has been forcibly removed from their home. That’s why these gardens exist. They’re pieces of Burma and Nepal. They’re places where refugees can go out and farm like they did at home, grow bitter gourds and noodle beans like they did at home, speak like they did at home, and build community like they did at home. The CRIT gardens aren’t mere income generators or a means of integrating cultures. The gardens are a place for people to come home.

Reflections from the RAPP Conference

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Uncategorized

Written by Sarah Risely

CRIT agricultural programming staff had the great opportunity to host and attend the a national RAPP and ISED Solutions conference. This event brought together recipients of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), a federal grant program that provides funding to organizations that educate and mentor farmers-to-be, as well as organizations that pilot and report back on farmer training materials.

The conference gathered a large network of organizations running  agricultural programs across the country—both brand new and veterans  formed in the 80’s and 90’s. As a staff member of one of the ‘greener’  organizations, it was both affirming and inspiring to see such long-standing  and successful programs in cities reaching from Oakland, California to  Portland, Maine. The continued existence of these programs shows that t  they are not only sustainable, but programs that are useful for and desired  by refugee communities. Hearing their stories and seeing the work that they  have accomplished with their participants demonstrates how a trial-and-error, persistent, and humble approach to this work truly does pay off in the growth of gardens, programs, and participant success.

Perhaps the most helpful portion of the conference came in the form of program organizers presenting about their individual projects. Although coming from different contexts and using different approaches, each organization emphasized the importance of experiential student-driven learning. The Global Growers Network in Atlanta, Georgia spoke of their ‘scientific approach’ to learning: Identify a problem, develop solutions, test, and reflect. New American Sustainable Agricultural Project in Portland, Maine discussed comparing and contrasting farming practices in participants’ home countries and those in the U.S.—taking the time to discuss the “Why” behind these adaptations. These approaches put the farmers in charge of their education and emphasize self-reflection and farmer-to-farmer instruction—powerful tools for lasting educational experiences.

Although I left the conference thinking about the many challenges ahead, it was a comfort to know that there exists such a wide network of farmers, agencies, organizations, and experts all working towards a similar goal. Farming is a craft, honed over years and passed from generation to generation. Meeting such a driven and skilled group of individuals has shown me that this movement has created its own form of family in which knowledge is passed from one branch to the next. One that I hope will continue to grow and develop in the coming years.

Blackman Road Gardeners- part of Nashville’s refugee farming family .

Reflection of Warmth

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Agricultural Programs, Uncategorized

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.



the leaves began tumbling down

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Uncategorized

It seemed that as soon as the calendar spoke fall into being, the leaves began tumbling down. How quickly my mind raced to the work left to be done in the garden this year.  Each season in the garden is a lesson on timing- from the first plowing of the field to the last cover crop sown.

And yet, even with the long list of work left to be done, I pause to reflect on the wonder of our work.  How just over the course of months, a space can transform into a bountiful, life-giving garden.


While most programs are forced to be managed by grant cycles, the agricultural programs are first and foremost managed by the cycle of seasons. It’s a remarkably visceral way to be rooted in your work- to be bound by what can happen this season and  by what must wait for next season.

As we prepare to close out the gardens for the end of one season, we also begin dreaming and planning  for next season.




Connected to the land, again.

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Uncategorized

Few mornings do I get the opportunity to reflect on the power of space. Yet, today, as I mowed the Blackman Road Garden, my mind was consumed. When I speak about our program’s mission, I often say that our goals are to connect refugees to growing space. There is so much packed into the word ‘space’.


As I’m mowing and pondering more about space, I think of being able to breathe, to relax and to feel comfortable. I think of all this as the sun barely peaks through the clouds and the sunflowers are lit and dancing in the breeze. And thinking of green space offers another set of images, images of the freedom to come and go, to play and to work, to enter into solitude or community.

The conflicts that bring many refugees to the United States are conflicts that tear them from space, space used to farm or to live, to play and to learn. A son of one of our community gardeners told me last week that this was the first time in twenty or thirty years that some people in his community had been connected to the land again.

I watch the bustle of the morning, the birds chattering and the bees and wasps dancing from flower to flower. I listen as someone gasps at the size of the snake gourd now growing up our willow tree, and I know that providing growing space is more than providing a place to grow food. Our gardens are a sense of place that feel powerfully full of potential, hope and connection.

Refugee gardeners take a field trip to TSU

Posted by Lauren Bailey to Uncategorized

Last Friday, the Refuge gardeners and staff drove in a caravan to the TSU farm from the Refuge Garden; there was lots of chatter from the gardeners as we traveled. We were  headed to explore the  legume research of TSU professor, Dr. Blair and graduate student, Devendra.

Many of our gardeners at the Refuge Garden site have been growing beautiful yard long beans this season, and Devendra’s research specifically explored different varieties of this type of bean.

Dr. Blair and Dhan sporting their yard long beans- long enough to be scarfs.


We greeted them at the garden, explored the language of legumes and took a walk to their research plots.


The act of growing food can cross cultural barriers. We find ourselves in the midst of the plants speaking for themselves.

We returned to the garden excited and already thinking and planning for the next growing season.


Thanks to everyone who made this field trip possible: Dr. Blair, Devendra, Catherine Pearson-TFLI and Christina Bentrup- TNFP!