A group of refugees from the east African country of Burundi have taken up farming again, as they did in their native country, with the help of the Stone Mountain nonprofit Refugee Family Services.
Susan Pavlin, director of policy with RFS, has set up the Global Growers Network (GGN) to support the refugee community in DeKalb County. With guidance from experienced Burundi farmers, a group of about 15 Burundi women are growing the food and gaining knowledge about urban farming in Georgia’s climate.
Pavlin’s latest project is a roughly half-acre plot of land at East College Avenue and New Street in Decatur. The group manages a total of six community gardens and one farm, primarily in Decatur and Clarkston.
Global Growers reached an agreement with the owners of East Decatur Station, which also owns the land where the group has a farm on Sams Street.
“They have given us a very generous lease agreement so between the two plots we have about an acre of land,” Pavlin said. “Some of the women have other jobs, but many of the women haven’t had the opportunity to work because they either have small children or speak limited English. But this is supplemental income for them.”
The Sams Street farm is completing its second growing cycle, Pavlin said. The women take the produce that is grown and sell it at the Grant Park Farmer’s Market in Atlanta.
GGN will celebrate its second Harvest Festival on Oct. 22, noon-3 p.m. at the farm at 121 Sams Street. The event is a fundraiser for the group that includes a Winter Stew and Chili Cook-off, with international music, dancing and fresh-grown produce.
“This is a unique opportunity to celebrate the tremendous contributions that international newcomers can make to our local food system, and to share in the success of these incredible women as producers for our local markets,” Pavlin said.
The newest plot of land will be planted with a cover crop later this year to keep weeds away, Pavlin said. The soil will be turned over in February 2012 and be ready to grow by early spring.
Pavlin said she started the GGN after the Sams Street project.
“We had a handful of different projects in Clarkston and it was a way to make sure to get everybody connected,” Pavlin said. “Plus, it’s a way to provide education and support for everyone.”
Pavlin worked with the Southern Regional Risk Management Education Center to provide training for the farmers for the first year. Also, the GGN receives funding from the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. The money helps buy equipment and pay for training and technical support, Pavlin said.
Most of the women had experience farming in Burundi, which is near the equator. However, the training has enabled the women to learn how to cultivate cool- and warm-weather vegetables.
A chance meeting with a Burundi refugee who was an agronomist in his home country sparked the idea for the gardens, Pavlin said.
“I met a guy who was a trained agronomist, and had a job similar to an extension agent here,” Pavlin said. “He wanted to get back into farming and I told him my idea. He said, ‘If you find the land, I can find the people.’ That’s how it got started.”
With the dirt freshly tilled at the corner on New Street and East College, Pavlin already is looking for more opportunities.
“We have applied to DeKalb County for another garden space and we hope to enroll in a farm training program in the spring,” Pavlin said.