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Refugee and Immigrant Communities Come Together to Start Community Garden

As refugee families in the United States begin to assimilate into mainstream American culture, their eating habits similarly evolve, reflecting a departure from their traditional customs. The result of this shift can be alarming, as obesity rates and other negative health outcomes soar in these particularly vulnerable communities.

Health experts have discovered that among immigrant and refugee populations that have been in America for less than one year, the prevalence of obesity is approximately 8 percent. However, among individuals who have been living here for up to 15 years, the rate of obesity jumps to nearly 20 percent, reflecting the growing impact of American habits on these impressionable populations.

In Sacramento, California, Arden Manor, a community comprised primarily of refugee families from Nepal, rose to meet the challenges that underscore this health dilemma:  unhealthy eating habits, lack of access to healthy foods and the increase of violence throughout the neighborhood. Their solution: start a community garden! The Arden Manor Garden, established in the heart of a large apartment complex housing many refugee families, is sponsored by the Impact outreach program run by Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, one group associated with the Church World Service(CWS). CWS is a national organization that works to eradicate hunger and poverty, and sees community gardening as a way for refugee and immigrant groups to re-establish their roots, since for many families, gardening was their way of life in their native country.

CWS donated the tools, supplies and land necessary to start the Arden Manor Garden, but the community members took responsibility for making it bloom and are now harvesting the benefits! Beyond providing healthy food alternatives at no cost, the community garden serves as a social hub for people in the neighborhood. It fosters a sense of pride among the neighborhood and provides a productive activity for community members, especially children, to engage in during their free time. Today, many community members contribute to keeping up the garden on a daily basis, and lavender plants, fresh tomatoes, chilies and pumpkins are growing, providing fresh ingredients for the community’s more traditional dishes. There’s even a chicken coop in the corner, providing eggs as well as entertainment for the kids! As Vickie Guanzon, who spends time in the Arden Manor community garden every day, explained, “What this garden is doing is bringing families…together.”