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IRC’s New Roots: A Growing Partnership with RAPP

Published: September 17, 2012

The Office of Refugee Resettlement's Refugee Agriculture Partnership Program (RAPP) has helped cultivate a variety of refugee-focused food security and farm training initiatives across the United States.  One of its earliest partners, the International Rescue Committee, has leveraged ORR support from an initial grant in 2005 to reach more than 10,000 refugees and their neighbors via an innovative program called New Roots.  New Roots takes a holistic approach to community development that builds on refugee traditions, knowledge and experience.  From helping refugees find a first job in the agricultural sector to connecting families with community garden plots, from comprehensive grocery store orientation to farm-based business training--New Roots is unlocking the skills of refugees for the benefit of all Americans.

One of IRC's most robust New Roots programs is situated in Phoenix, Arizona.  A grant from RAPP in 2008 allowed the Phoenix office to initiate a farm business training program that has helped establish 38 independent agricultural businesses.  From ethnic-specific fruit and vegetable production to goat ranching, refugees from Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Burma, Uganda and other countries are successfully gleaning full and part time employment from their new businesses.  In 2010, IRC Phoenix leveraged RAPP support to secure grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the specific aim of assisting new refugee farmers in the marketing of their products.   IRC assisted refugee farm business owners in forming a market cooperative called Gila Farm Cooperative that aggregates products from dozens of producers for sale via a CSA, retail outlets, and restaurants.  The cooperative has proved to be a critical resource for its refugee members, earning more than $10,000 in the first season of operation and providing a place where the farmers can share tools, seeds and other resources.  The cooperative is also way for the refugees to disseminate learned skills and knowledge.  One Gila Farm Cooperative board member said that "IRC New Roots supported me a lot.  Now I want to support [other] refugees because I learned how to do it, how to be a good and successful farmer in Arizona."

This month, a cook book that highlights Gila Farm growers and recipes from their home countries was released on their website at gilafarm.org.  The 150+ page full color cookbook has globally inspired recipes for cooking and eating locally; proceeds from the sales go to support Gila Farm growers, and help them continue to grow their business and purchase shared resources such as land, seeds and equipment.

The IRC and ORR are leveraging successes such as this to seed new programs across the United States.  New Roots serves more than 400 growers across 10 U.S. cities and has plans to expand to all 22 of its resettlement locations over the next few years.  RAPP currently supports 14 refugee food security, urban agriculture and farm training programs in partnership with non-profit organizations across the country.  Together, IRC, ORR and its partners are helping build stronger families, healthier communities and more resilient local food systems across America.