Finding fresh food can be tough in neighborhoods without easy access to grocery stores. Residents of Vickery Meadow, a refugee-rich neighborhood in northeast Dallas, are making healthy food more accessible by growing it themselves in their community garden.
Last year, resident Padam Adhikari grew so many vegetables in his neighborhood garden, he could skip the produce aisle when he went shopping. He says he didn’t need to buy vegetables from the grocery store for about four to five months.
He made weekly treks to the garden to pick long beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and potatoes. This year though, some of the vegetables have vanished.
The culprits? Rodents.
One morning this summer, neighbors showed up at the garden next to McShan Elementary to learn how deal with these pesky critters. As they walked through the garden, they approached a compost heap. A couple of the gardeners stirred the pile of leaves and old food.
Then, a surprise: Several rats scurried through the garden.
The International Rescue Committee helps refugees establish and maintain their community gardens. Yui Iwase, with the IRC, helped the neighborhood tackle the rat problem by sharing a recipe for a homemade pepper spray that would help keep the rodents away.
“You would boil hot peppers, garlic, onions for about 20 minutes and then you put it in spray bottle,” she said.
The idea gives the neighbors hope that they may be able to salvage their crops. After all, this garden is called “Seeds of Hope.”
'Feel dirt and enjoy nature'
Iwase says these plots are vital in neighborhoods like Vickery Meadow, where residents hail from many countries and speak more than 40 languages.
“Definitely food security, food access is the main thing, especially for culturally appropriate vegetables,” she says. “We also believe that there’s large, kind of mental health factor to gardening, to being outside.”
Many of the residents used to grow their own crops in their home countries. In Vickery Meadow, they live in apartments and don’t have space for gardens.
“Just being able to be outside. You know, touch dirt, feel dirt and enjoy nature, I think, is a huge part of it,” Iwase says. “But also, a place outside your home, a place outside of your work that you can be in community with others.”
That idea resonates with Meera Subba, who’s from Bhutan but spent years living in a refugee camp in Nepal before being resettled in Dallas. She says the garden brings neighbors together, and they share vegetables with each other.
“They can help us to pour water. Sometimes they can see our vegetables. If I have no vegetables, sometimes my friends, they gonna give me and if I have more vegetables, I’ll give them.”
Partnering with schools and churches
There are eight gardens in Dallas that are part of the International Rescue Committee’s New Roots program. It started in 2010 after a group of Bhutanese women in Dallas said they wanted to have better access to healthy food for their families. Eighty-four percent of IRC’s clients are women.
Iwase of IRC says the group partners with different organizations, like schools and churches, which allow it to use their land.
“This garden is a really great way for the parents to be interacting with the school often and to be involved," Iwase says.
This garden isn’t just providing food, it’s helping break language and cultural barriers, she says.