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Refugees Share Culture in Dudley Greenhouse

TFP staff Jennie Msall works with BCRHHR members.
TFP staff Jennie Msall works with BCRHHR members.
Each Friday, a group of refugees and clinicians from the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights (BCRHHR) meet at the Boston Medical Center and walk the mile to the Dudley Greenhouse together. At the greenhouse, they are welcomed by TFP staffers Jennie Msall and Danielle Andrews, who lead them into the community bay, where they have been hard at work all winter. Soon, they sink their hands into the dirt and settle into the work of cultivating their three raised-bed gardens, in which they grow a variety of vegetables, including plants from their home countries. As they tend their crops, the refugees discuss their lives in Boston, methods for growing food in small spaces, and what they cook and eat here in Boston and in their home countries.

These visitors make up one of the nine local community groups that have utilized the 27 plots of the Dudley Greenhouse's community bay during the winter of 2011-12. The groups range from local middle schools and health centers to community organizations and local gardeners. They come to the greenhouse to grow vegetables, learn about healthy eating and where food comes from, and share their cultures. Sometimes, they attend workshops about container gardening, cooking, or food justice; other times, they simply enjoy the opportunity to cultivate their vegetables and savor each other's company in the warmth of the greenhouse.

Each group comes to the greenhouse with their own purpose, whether it be discovering where food comes from, growing produce for other community members in need, or reconnecting with their own traditions and cultures. For the refugees from the BCRHHR, the greenhouse has been a haven. They have connected with friendly faces while celebrating with their home cultures and learning more about surviving and thriving in a new city. For instance, before starting their work at the greenhouse, many of the women were nervous about walking around Boston because they were unfamiliar with the neighborhoods and worried about their safety. Walking to the greenhouse together each week has given them the opportunity to explore the city and has made them feel more at home in their new neighborhoods. As a result, BCRHHR has been inspired to start a walking group for refugees who visit the center.

In addition, the refugees report that they have been better able to connect with clinicians from BMC during their time at the greenhouse. At the hospital, they say, defined boundaries and a rushed schedule have hindered close relationships between refugees and clinicians. During their time walking to the greenhouse and working their plots, however, they have had the opportunity to truly connect and enjoy each other's culture and experiences. On a recent Friday, a group of Ugandan refugees held a tea party in the greenhouse to celebrate a clinician's last day at BMC. Using lemongrass grown in the greenhouse, they taught the group to make Ugandan-style lemongrass tea and drank it together to honor their new friend.

The refugees from the BCRHHR and the eight other community groups will be tending their plots at the Dudley Greenhouse until July of 2012. For more information about the community bays at the Dudley Greenhouse, please contact Community Food Coordinator Danielle Andrews.

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