Refugee farmers sell produce to markets, restaurants

Amina Osman, a refugee from Somalia, stood behind her produce at a farmer’s market at St. Francis of Assisi Church on July 22. Students from St. Francis of Assisi School’s social justice program volunteered at the market. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

By JESSICA ABLE
Record Staff Writer

In recent months refugees who farm in local community gardens have started selling their extra produce at area farmer’s markets — and some are selling to local restaurants.

The community gardens are made possible by the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program (RAPP), an initiative of Catholic Charities’ Kentucky Office for Refugees.

Lauren Goldberg, project coordinator for the Kentucky Office for Refugees, said the program, now in its fifth year, aims to provide refugees access to farmland and to educate participants about the uses of non-synthetic farming materials.

Of the 100 or so garden plots at four different community gardens, most are a 30-foot by 30-foot area and are intended to provide food for a single family, she said. As part of the program, farmers must attend educational meetings where Goldberg discusses topics such as pricing produce and marketing strategies.

One of the farmers, Amina Osman of Somalia, has been growing with RAPP for three years. Osman and her husband, Bakar, grow a variety of vegetables on a half-acre lot near the intersection of Preston Highway and the Gene Snyder Freeway.

The Osmans and their five children are Somali refugees who came to the United States in 2005.

Osman grows a variety of greens, including kale and Swiss chard, tomatoes, eggplant, beets and dill. Additionally, she has three different varieties of hot peppers,
basil, cabbage, onions, tomatillos, cucumbers, watermelon and corn.

Osman’s plot is larger than most and she is regularly able to sell extra items at farmers’ markets and to local restaurant owners, Goldberg said.

St. Francis of Assisi Church hosts a farmer’s market on Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon.

Gabe Sowder, owner of Taco Punk restaurant, 736 East Market Street, began purchasing produce from Osman about a month ago.

“So far I’ve bought kale, green beans, tomatoes and hot peppers,” he said during a phone interview July 17.

Sowder said he’s been aware of the local micro-farming movement for a while and was excited to learn he would be able to buy more than a few pounds of produce from any one farmer.

“It’s really hard for me to get 20 pounds of kale from one farmer,” he noted. “If I go to a farmer’s market, there is a wide variety of produce which almost always means there are very small quantities.”

Sowder also said that the Catholic Charities program has worked out well because the organization understands the economics of a restaurant.

“They work with me. Yeah, the prices are a little lower but they also are selling more pounds (of produce), too. If I had to buy four pounds of kale from five different vendors at a farmer’s market it would be cost prohibitive,” he explained.

For Sowder it’s about more than getting a good deal on produce; it’s also about supporting what he said is a “great cause.”

“It’s more than just participating in the local economy. To me it’s what Americans should be doing, welcoming new Americans here,” he said.

Osman also sells to Rye and Harvest restaurants, both on East Market Street, and is planning to sell to Decca restaurant in the coming weeks. She has also sold to Grasshoppers Distribution.

Not only are these farmers — through the garden program — able to provide additional food for their families, but they are providing supplemental income and building confidence too, Goldberg said.

Refugees who farm at the gardens sponsored by the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program sell at the following markets:

  • Whole Foods Farmers Market, 4944 Shelbyville Road, Wednesdays, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • St. Matthews Farmers Market, 4100 Shelbyville Road, every other Saturday (July 28, Aug. 11 and 25, Sept. 8 and 22), 8 a.m. to noon
  • St. Francis of Assisi Church, 1960 Bardstown Road, Sundays, 10 a.m. to noon.
  • Americana Community Center, 4801 Southside Drive, Tuesdays, 9 a.m. to noon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *