Inspiration on the Road from Des Moines
from Office of Refugee Resettlement Newsletter: September 2011
Last June, Nicholas Wuertz, Service Coordinator for Lutheran Services in Iowa, took several refugees on a 2,000-mile road trip from Des Moines to Washington, DC, to attend the 2010 Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR )National Consultation. Wuertz figured the Consultation would provide context, information, and inspiration for the group; as it turned out, the drive itself provoked a discussion that would lead LSI down a new road, to refugee gardening.
As the group traveled along miles of farmland through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, several of the refugees talked about their own experiences in agriculture and asked how they could be re-connected with the land in their new country. A Refugee Agricultural Patnership Program (RAPP) session at the ORR Consultation provided the information they needed, and by the time they’d returned to Des Moines, a new project was born. Twenty people attended the first meeting to discuss refugee agricultural projects; soon after, Wuertz helped LSI secure a planning grant through the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.
Said Wuertz, “Today, around 80 families are working plots in two gardens sponsored by the city of Des Moines, and another two that are privately owned and managed. The refugee gardeners-we call them the 3 B’s because most of them are refugees from Bhutan, Burma and Burundi-are planting and cultivating crops for their own personal use at this time. As the project grows, so do the opportunities for moving from supplemental produce to supplemental income for refugee families.”
Wuertz and a new LSI crew hit the road again for the 2011 ORR National Consultation held in August, escorting one of the office’s special invited refugee guests and making the rounds on Capitol Hill. When asked what sort of inspiration might have struck on this trip, Wuertz replied “We came back more inspired to spread awareness of the refugee journey, and the strength and resilience they have to survive and thrive in resettlement. We have a renewed commitment to marking World Refugee Day, but also making sure that everyone knows that refugees’ path to self-sufficiency is one we can help make a little smoother, if we just pull together.”