Refugee gardens

I spent a delightful morning this week at a senior center in Logan that's run by the Nationalities Service Center. It's held in the landlocked basement of Holy Trinity Bethlehem Presbyterian Church but the seniors have a community garden about 10 blocks away on the lawn at Our Lady of Hope Church on North Broad Street. (The pastor, a Filipino, is a gardener himself.) Long story short, the gardeners here, with some exceptions, are refugees and immigrants from Southeast Asia. Last summer, they bought raised beds, mulch and soil with money from a state nutrition grant, and collected seeds they either brought with them to this country or were given. They're already planning their second season. They entertained me with stories of the different vegetables and herbs they like to grow and cook with, and it was wonderful to see and hear, not just because their story is so inspiring, but because they'll be putting their first seedlings in the ground in early March, just a few weeks away. These so-called refugee gardens offer all the usual benefits of community gardens - camaraderie, fresh air and exercise, delicious vegetables. They also give these folks a chance to feel proud of their national identities and to show off the knowledge they have about foods most of us wouldn't know a thing about. (Bitter melon, for example.) As Tara Schwartzendruber-Landis, senior center program director and driver of the garden, points out, most of these seniors were farmers, agricultural workers or gardeners living off the land in their home countries. They know how to do this, and it must feel great to be doing it again after, in some cases, years spent holed up in a row house in North Philly. Think I'll stop by again in a couple of months ... 

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