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For IRC New Roots Specialist in Baltimore, Local Roots began in SWVA.

When I decided to leave Baltimore, Maryland for the growing seasons of 2014 to WWOOF and intern at organic farms in the Mid-Atlantic and South, it came out of a personal desire to connect with my familial roots, as well as to learn about sustainable living and organic food production on small scale intensive farms. I have always been an advocate for healthy nutritious and organic foods, and shopping local, so the Harvest Table Farm seemed like the perfect placement for a WWOOFing opportunity.

My father’s family hails from Southwestern Virginia since coming to America from Ireland. They made a life here in this country by homesteading in the rich Appalachian landscape; as time went on, the children grew up with an eye outward to the larger state. My father left the mountains after meeting my mother, a flatlander from Delaware’s Sussex County and daughter of a farmer herself, and they moved to Richmond, Virginia for work and to raise us kids. I grew up in RVA, but it never went unsaid by my father or my mother that we came from the mountains and farm land across the Eastern Shore and beautiful mountains of Virginia.

Upon arriving at Harvest Table Farm in August I was somewhat unsure what to expect. I had read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver cover-to-cover during my previous farm internship at Taproot Farm (thanks to the delightful Beth’s basket of ‘suggested reading’ next to our bunk beds). Samantha, the farm manager, and Kelsey, along with the other summer intern, Samuel, made me feel right at home the first day on the farm. Samantha eased me into farm life with delicious communal cooking, small yet important weeding tasks, and a full tour of the farm's various fields and chicken rotational grazing elements.

Tasks at the Harvest Table Farm are done efficiently, at a high quality, and made to be enjoyable. I was so very excited to learn that these young farmers had speakers facing out towards their fields to include music into their work day! I am a music lover and I soon learned that Samantha, Kelsey, Samuel and myself had many favorites in common.

At Harvest Table Farm things are also done very differently than other small organic farms I have worked on because this farm is producing high quality organic food for the Harvest Table restaurant daily. I learned that whatever the local farms are not able to provide at a large enough quantity is what Samantha and the farm interns/staff are tasked to grow for the restaurant. If that wasn’t difficult enough to keep going during 3- 4 seasons, (!!) Samantha had taken on selling at two farmer's markets in the area each week. She may seem crazy to us 9 to 5ers, but this is truly what it takes for a small scale farmer to “make it” in the modern age of agriculture in America. I am learning this lesson more and more in my new role as New Roots Specialist at the International Rescue Committee in Baltimore, MD.

In Baltimore, after returning from SWVA and the Harvest Table I got my dream job working with refugees/asylees who want to grow their own food and stay connected to the land in their new home of the US. New Roots is a program of the International Rescue Committee in the US where newly resettled refugees/asylees are provided land (think community garden plots), technical assistance, and support to grow their own food in their new homeland. Our New Roots growers come from Bhutan, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Myanmar, Eritrea, Iraq and many other faraway places. These resilient people have come such a long way looking for safety and a sense of home. Having a connection to the soil, a plot of their own, and the ability to grow culturally appropriate crops, is an integral part of their resettlement and connection to their new home, America. Each day in this job I am learning about ethnic crops from all over the world and farmers experiences from diverse backgrounds. Each of our growers feels engaged with New Roots and also engaged within their community as they have this tie to their garden land and their new neighborhood. While farming alongside Samantha I learned and felt a similar feeling as my ancestors farmed for decades in nearby Southwestern Virginia Appalachian land.

I cannot imagine being forced to leave my homeland due to persecution, war, or other violence as all of the New Roots gardeners have. Each and every one of them is so resilient, and they are looking forward to becoming small scale cooperative beginning farmers in America. I feel as though I can guide them on this exciting journey thanks in part to what I learned during my season farming/WWOOFing in 2014 at Harvest Table and other farms.

If you are interested to learn more about the New Roots Initiative in Baltimore at the IRC click here

We have open internships seasonally! Email Kai for more information.

Kai at Taproot Farm
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