The Cotopaxi team recently helped New Roots winterize their Redwood Road farm site, which required a lot of wheelbarrows, mulch, shovels, and elbow grease. While we were there, we also got to learn a little more about an awesome program that’s filling a need within the Salt Lake community. Check it out!
What’s New Roots?
New Roots in Salt Lake City is a program of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a humanitarian aid organization that resettles refugees in Salt Lake City and other locations across the country. Founded in large part by Salt Lake County, New Roots was instated to provide opportunities for the refugees within the county to grow and sell their own food.
“The majority of refugees, especially in their first year of resettlement, live in apartment complexes and don’t have backyards,” says Grace Henley, the New Roots Program Manager. “So we’re giving them the opportunity to do the same thing you or I would do in our backyard: grow some vegetables and bring them home for our families to eat.”
There are basically two facets of New Roots: the community garden program and the farm training program. The community garden program is where every refugee who wants to get involved in growing his or her own food must begin.
But because demand is high and land is limited, not every applicant will receive a garden plot after applying to the program. Their application will be assessed based on their need for fresh food access and their capacity for growing and caring for a garden. If they’re selected, New Roots will allocate a plot for them in a community garden near their home. These plots are generally large enough to support one family.
New Roots works with outside programs, namely the Wasatch Community Gardens Network, to reserve certain plots for refugees within existing community gardens, which is why they have refugees in 11 garden sites across Salt Lake County, only one of which is their own. “We really want to be putting them in gardens near their homes where other people—not necessarily refugees—are gardening so they can have the opportunity to literally settle into their new landscape and meet people in this really comfortable way,” says Grace.
For the first two years, New Roots will cover the plot fee for the refugee gardeners, but after two years New Roots will ask gardeners to begin paying the $20–$40 annual fee themselves, as long as they are financially secure, so New Roots can support additional gardeners.
After cultivating a community garden plot, some gardeners progress to the farm training program, which serves as an incubator for training and supporting those refugees and immigrants who hope to eventually start their own farming businesses in the U.S. The refugees in this program go through a rigorous training program, which involves anything from taking classes to selling their food at markets and to local restaurants.
All of this happens at the New Roots Redwood Road Farm site, a piece of acreage that’s large enough for farmers to grow food on a grander scale than what’s possible within the community gardens. Additionally, working on the same farm site allows farmers to not only share land, but resources, which reduces overhead costs and makes it possible to run a successful business.
When you look back at the pattern of New Roots Program Manager Grace Henley’s life, it’s almost as if she was destined for this job. Grace grew up in Illinois in one of the most productive agrarian regions in the U.S. and consequently spent much of her time as a teenager working on organic farms.
Once she headed to the University of Vermont, she continued exploring and volunteering in the surrounding agricultural communities up until she graduated with a degree in both political science and environmental studies. “I wanted to be exposed to diversity and to other people’s world experiences,” Grace says. In addition to farming and sustainable food sourcing, Grace is also interested in local food, agriculture, traveling, anthropology, and cross-cultural interaction, which makes New Roots the perfect meeting place of both her interests and skills.
She first met New Roots after moving out to Utah on a whim. Turns out she arrived right on time. Shortly after arriving, she heard about an upcoming refugee agriculture project in Salt Lake County, which turned out to be New Roots. She immediately volunteered and worked her way up as the program continued to grow.
The program eventually reached the point to where it needed a manager to do exactly what Grace wanted to be doing. Needless to say, she got the job. “I’ve had a lot of help along the way,” says Grace. “But I always tell college students that if your dream job doesn’t exist, that just means you have to find a way to make it exist.”
Why is what New Roots does so important?
According to the last census, there are roughly 50,000 refugees living in Salt Lake County alone, which is about 6 percent of the county’s population. “On the one hand when refugees get here, they’re overwhelmingly excited, grateful, and relieved, but there’s also a lot of stress because people have inevitably left people at home,” says Grace.
To make matters more disorienting, many refugees come from agrarian backgrounds with deep traditions and emotional connections associated with growing food, a way of life that can be hard to come by within the US. But through New Roots refugees can reconnect with the life they left behind. “It’s almost like watching them reclaim a piece of what they lost,” says Grace. “They thought it was a door that was closing when they got here, but then we were able to keep it open for them.”
What’s on the horizon for New Roots?
“The only trick we’re running into right now is that there are so many people interested in the farm training program and we’re running out of land,” says Grace. Ultimately New Roots hopes for the farmers to be capable of running successful and independent farms, but in order to do this, the farmers must first practice growing food on a larger scale, something that simply isn’t possible given the current available land space.
Currently, programs like the Salt Lake County Open Space and Urban Farming Initiative, Utah State University Extension and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service are helping provide New Roots with access to technical assistance and resources to seek a potential farm sites that could be added to their program.
Help like this is only one example of the hundred of community members on both a local and national scale that have helped New Roots reach the point it’s at today. “The program definitely heavily rests on community partners,” says Grace. “It wouldn’t be functioning at all without that support.”
Who else is involved?
Salt Lake County, the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, Wasatch Community Gardens, Novo Foundation, Utah Department of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Open Space Institute, Utah Department of Health, Utah Department of Food and Agriculture, Slow Food Utah, and many more!
Can anyone buy the food?
Yes! This coming summer, New Roots plans to expand the previous farm stand into a full-fledged farmer’s market with multiple vendors beyond just New Roots farmers. Although the farmers sell their food primarily through the New Roots market, they also sell to a variety of local farm-to-table restaurants and speciality grocers. “They love the specialty ethnic vegetables we grow,” says Grace. Here’s a list of a few of these restaurants that you might want to try:
If you want the produce but want to do the cooking yourself, then head to the New Roots Farmers Market—it’s open to everyone! “We intend for the farmer’s market to serve the whole neighborhood, regardless of the background people come from,” says Grace.
However, the farmers market first priority is to provide fresh produce to those people who may not be able to access those fresh foods otherwise, which is why the farmers market is located within the largest food desert in Salt Lake County, meaning there is a large portion of people in that neighborhood who don’t have a grocery store within walking distance (one mile) or a personal means of transportation.
Furthermore, as part of the Fresh Fund incentive program, the New Roots Farmers Market is able to not only accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits in exchange for their vegetables, but to also match customer purchases dollar for dollar at a rate of up to $10 per week. “It helps incentivize low income customers who might not feel that a farmer’s market is a place where they naturally belong,” says Grace. “Watching people swarm a farm stand because they so badly want to get their hands on the fresh vegetables that you’re offering is an unbelievably cool experience—especially if you come from a farming background.”
So how can I get involved?
- Follow the IRC and New Roots in Salt Lake City and the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City on Facebook.
- Shop and visit the Sunnyvale Farmers Market.
- Become a vendor at the Farmers Market.
- Donate to the cause.
- Eat at the restaurants that buy vegetables from New Roots farmers.
- Volunteer to help with pre-season and end-of-season maintenance.
- Call or email Lyn Spataro, the IRC Salt Lake City Volunteer Coordinator, at 801-883-8456 or Lyn.Spataro@rescue.org to see how you can help.
- Get in touch with Grace at Grace.Henley@rescue.org to schedule a farm tour!!
Interested in doing good? Cotopaxi’s Adventure for Good Grant is awarded to outstanding adventurers who have demonstrated a significant commitment to their global community through volunteerism. Learn more about the quarterly grant and instructions on how to apply.