Planting New Roots

Sustainable Farms, Sustainable Communities
By Elle O’Casey


I recently traveled to Pine Island Community Farm, located in Colchester, Vermont. I’m not a person particularly well-versed in the ins and outs of farming. I’ve never been able to find my “green thumb.” My garden currently consists of three small pots full of mint, basil, and rosemary. It takes all my energy just to keep these greens alive. So one might wonder why I took a day trip to a distant farm, a place that on its surface didn’t necessarily seem to appeal to me. What intrigued me about the place, or rather what inspired me about the place, was the premise: Pine Island Community Farm exists to “support New American Farms who wish to raise goats, chickens, or garden crops at the farm.”

The phrase New Americans was one I wasn’t familiar with but one that I instantly gravitated toward. This simple reworking of another word we hear on a daily basis – refugee – caused me to pause. With today’s number of refugees at its highest level ever with over 65 million refugees worldwide, it’s easy to see that number as a detached statistic reaching insurmountable proportions. It’s also easy to read the word refugee and see a generic image of a person without roots and without a home.

Yet, at Pine Island Community Farm, the word refugee fades into the distance and instead is replaced with a more rooted, hopeful phrase – “New Americans.”

IMG_4954Formed in 2013, Pine Island Community Farm is a partnership between the Vermont Land Trust and the Association of Africans Living in Vermont. It operates as a collaborative farm where each individual farm enterprise is run by the owner as his or her own small business. The livestock collaborative includes goats and chickens. There is also a beekeeping collaborative, and a garden collaborative. The garden collaborative was launched in 2015 and today about 60 families have gardens there. Plots are an eighth of an acre and run $90 for the season.

I met with Pine Island’s project manager Karen Freudenberger who took me on a tour around the farm. She spoke about the diversity of crops, languages, and community farming ideas present at this place. In the garden plots, farmers from more than a dozen countries plant a wide variety of fruits and vegetables from their home countries. On the hill behind the garden plots, Chuda Dhaurali and his family from Nepal, live and work on the farm raising goats.

Karen spoke about the ways these New Americans restore their standing and confidence on the farm. The farm is a place they are familiar with. Looking at the sheer number of garden plots and the array of fruits and vegetables, it was easy to see their light and dignity shining across this farmland. They are truly masters of farming, innovative gardeners, regenerators, community leaders, and sustainers of the soil.

In a state where 94.8% of the population is white, we stand to gain a lot from these New Americans. They bring a range of skillsets, ideas, and cultures to the Green Mountain State and can ultimately help us become more sustainable and resilient. This is particularly important in recent years as Vermont’s population has fallen three of the past four years according to the Burlington Free Press.

I write about Pine Island Farms because the term “sustainability” is much broader than our conventional definition of the term. Sustainability includes strong local food systems, renewable energy, and recycling. It also speaks to how we as Vermonters can build sustainable communities that are inclusive, diverse, and supportive to new and old residents. Whether someone has lived her for seven generations or seven months, they are part of our state and this is their home.

What can we all do to welcome these New Americans to our state? How can we help them plant new roots and find a place to call home?

Do just one thing: Be welcoming to New Americans

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