The sun beats down on Dadiri Nuro as he hauls a basket of corn for his wife, Fatuma Haji, to display on their table at the Boise, Idaho, farmers’ market. Sweat drips down the side of his face, and his wide smile stands out as much as Fatuma’s colorful head scarf. He’s unloading vegetables from the Somali Bantu Community Farm, and his smile is a display of genuine satisfaction with their bountiful harvest. But also, he’s simply happy to be here.
Born in a small village in Somalia, Dadiri and Fatuma were living in a Kenyan refuge camp before being relocated to Idaho in 2006. Here, they joined other Somali Bantus and refugees from 26 countries. With the help of the Idaho Office for Refugees’ Global Gardens program, they put their farming roots back into use.
Up to 15 Somali Bantu families farm a donated plot of land, growing African corn alongside vegetables that sell well locally such as lettuces, tomatoes and cucumbers. Some grow just enough for themselves, and others grow enough to sell through farmers’ markets, CSAs, and restaurants.
“Many were farmers in their homeland,” Katie Painter, coordinator of the Refugee Agriculture program, explains. “This allows them to be connected to the land, have a mental health break, and have access to ethnic foods they can’t find here.” But their motivation runs even deeper.
“In Africa everything is free,” Dadiri says. “We wanted to figure out how to help each other.” So initially the farming income went into a fund for this purpose.
The Global Gardens started with a 2007 grant, and although most Somali Bantus have green thumbs, Painter’s goal was to teach them how to farm in this vastly different climate and make money doing so.
And it seems to be working. As a second job for most, the Somali Bantus are producing much needed extra income. Last year, they were included in a cookbook published by the Western Folklife Center, Making West Home in Idaho, Stories and Recipes from Boise’s Refugee Community.
The Global Gardens program has evolved into a business venture and a tie to the refugee’s new community, but it’s also served as a tie to their roots. In these Idaho fields, they work together as they might have back in their villages. And at the Boise farmers’ market they gather to sell at one table, allowing this Idaho community a glimpse of Somali culture.
—By Corinne Garcia, a food writer in Bozeman, Mont.