While many University of Michigan students often get involved by protesting the community, LSA senior Phimmasone Kym Owens took a different approach to student activism. To help refugees living in Washtenau County, Owens will work with Massey Botanical Gardens, Nichols Arboretum, and Jewish Family Services in December 2021 to create a community garden in her Ann Arbor.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Owens said the project was inspired by her experience as a refugee in the 1980s, giving her family access to ingredients needed for traditional cultural dishes in her home country of Laos. I said I couldn’t.
“In the ’80s, globalization wasn’t an issue,” Owens said. “Perhaps the most flashy thing in the grocery store was cilantro. It was not intended or sold.
Owens says that while international ingredients are more easily accessible than they were in the 1980s, transportation and language barriers remain.
“When you’re a refugee, you don’t know English,” said Owens. In terms of transportation to the community and availability of food, it really hasn’t changed.”
After graduating, Owens said she plans to take her work further by earning a master’s degree in the university’s social work department, which focuses on refugee communities. The focus is on improving food security so that food security is met, but the future will focus on more complex issues, Owens said.
“If you want to talk about other social issues, let’s cover the basics first,” Owens said. “My idea was, ‘If we can get everyone together at the table and eat together and talk about food, we can talk about other social issues together.'”
Owens said he contacted Jewish Family Services, an organization that helps resettle refugees arriving in the Ann Arbor area, to help plan a community garden. Owens said he also contacted the Massai Botanical Gardens when he learned that many grant applicants needed to have land for their projects.
After hearing Owens’ proposal for 2021, UM Campus Farm program manager Jeremy Moghtader told The Daily that before securing a four-year contract for the 21,000-square-foot farm, he worked with Anthony Kolenic, director of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Said he consulted. A plot of land for a refugee garden. Moghtader said the influx of Afghan refugees in Michigan before the summer of 2022 created an urgency to start the project before the growing season.
“There were many Afghan refugees who were trying to enter the United States as an emergency,” Mogtadah said. “The question was last year, can we get this garden up and running fast enough for people to get the soil and have the opportunity to pilot it?”
Ivana Lopez-Espinosa, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager at Matthaei Botanical Gardens (MBG), told The Daily about how MBG administrators are providing extensive logistical support to Jewish family services and refugee gardens. .
“[We]will check availability and contact MBG and staff to identify which spaces are open and when,” says Lopez Espinosa. “(We are) also thinking about budget and … time and capacity … I will support or navigate the logistics and preparation necessary to be able to start and run the event whenever I need it. can do.”
After establishing a plot of land to use on the campus farm, Owens said Jewish Family Services recently secured a $100,000 grant over three years from the Refugee Agriculture Partnership Project to fund the gardens. I was.
Owens said the grant will help solve similar challenges the garden experienced during the pilot summer, including shortages of volunteers, tools and supplies.
“We were lucky that Campus Farm donated leftovers from plant sales,” Owens said. “We were able to get tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, etc. and start a vegetable garden right away. Then we had a problem with the volunteers. And we didn’t have the personnel to help.
Moghtader said the grant will allow Jewish Family Services and Refugee Garden to offer a range of services to refugee clients, including allowing clients to sell produce grown on campus farms.
“[Participants]will have the opportunity to grow food and[sell produce]for their own consumption,” Moghtader said. “JFS had market stalls at several local farmers markets where … some of our clients were selling crafts and things of that nature. It’s their own choice what they do with their produce.”
In addition to increasing food security for refugee communities, Owens hopes the garden will implement other initiatives in the future to improve the physical and mental well-being of refugees, and will work with Ann Arbor and UM. Encourage community members to participate.
“Gardening isn’t the only thing we want to work on,” Owens said. “We also want to focus on mental health, therapy, art and entrepreneurship. There are many components to this program … you need a village to make something work, so if you have a lot of hands The more, the better.”
Moghtader said he looks forward to working with JFS on the remaining three years of the land contract. He said his farm on campus will assess space demand and continue to work to provide logistical support to the refugee garden.
“Our role is to work with[refugee parks]provide physical space and provide technical assistance on the agricultural side,” said Moghtader. “We also need to ensure that we have functioning infrastructure, such as water and other things needed to grow plants.”
Lopez-Espinosa said Matteei Botanical Gardens is working on organizing logistics for next summer, which will be the first summer to work with the grant.
“A lot of what we do now is setting up internal structures to make sure we have staff who can support different aspects of the garden,” says Lopez-Espinosa. “So we will be reaching out to staff members during this downseason to see who can help, support and intervene and what the potential calendar is.”
Lopez-Espinosa said he expects the partnership with Refugee Garden to be different this summer, mainly due to a stronger relationship with JFS and improved project organization.
“We believe we will be embarking on a client cohort model, so there will be different cohorts running our agricultural programs,” said Lopez-Espinosa. “There are eight weeks for clients to go through. What’s great is that by the end of the eight weeks, the client will… utilize the space and feel empowered to come back and continue gardening and harvesting throughout the season.”
Moghtader said the campus farm’s relationship with Owens and JFS aligns with Massey’s strategic plan.
The strategic plan states that Matthai Botanical Garden’s mission is to foster partnerships that promote sustainable practices in the natural environment. In a letter to be published in 2021, Korennic expands its mission by outlining goals such as better incorporating the environmental priorities and practices of Indigenous communities in the Ann Arbor area and leveraging the university’s sustainability goals. Did.
“MBGNA is committed to promoting fairness and justice, and to do so we will continue to consider MBGNA and the history of our living collections,” the letter read. , is our roadmap for how that commitment will translate into action: how MBGNA will probe and combat involvement in systemic injustice, and historically excluded communities. and how we co-create new ways to move forward for years to come.
While Owens said he would not be involved with the project once he entered graduate school, he believes he has started an important conversation about the importance of access to food in refugee communities.
Away from Refugee Garden, Owens said he’s also starting another non-profit, Age to Impact, aimed at addressing ageism on UM campuses.
“I’m trying to tackle ageism here at the University of Michigan,” Owens said. “I am an older, non-traditional student who demands that my education be fair and that I deserve it just like everyone else.”
As a graduate student, Owens said he wanted to address the issues facing the refugee community through a policy lens, as well as working to include them in discussions on legal reform.
“I am a firm believer that the best people to make change are the people that change affects,” Owens said. Stakeholders must be included Stakeholders must be included, refugees must be included and they need to ask, ‘What will benefit you?’ because they live it. ”
Contact Joshua Nicholson, Daily Staff Reporter, at: firstname.lastname@example.org.