Farm Allows Refugees to Get Back to Roots While Growing Business

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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa –It started as a vision from former refugees, who wanted to get back to their roots and grow their own produce here in Iowa. The dream is now a reality on the Global Greens Farm.

The Bhandari family works together growing produce on a plot of land.

"We are happy to have land and grow our own produce, especially the crops, the vegetables we don't find in the grocery story we like to eat, our cultural crops," Tika Bhandari said.

You'll find potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce varieties and more on the 100 x 100 plot in West Des Moines.

“My dad was a farmer back in Bhutan for 18 acres of land," Tika said.

The Bhandaris are from Bhutan. They spent 18 years in a refugee camp in Nepal before coming to Des Moines. They are now U.S. citizens. They started growing produce on the Global Greens Farm three years ago. The Global Greens Farm is part of a program through Lutheran Services in Iowa to help refugee farmers get back to their roots.

"In 2013, Valley Church and Valley Community Center provided this land for us, and it started with a vision from former refugees who farmed in their home country and had a desire to get back to the land and grow food again here," said LSI Director of Refugee Community Services Nick Wuertz.

Farmers sell the food at farmers markets, the Iowa Food Co-op and through community supported agriculture. Twenty farmers are currently developing their operations on small plots. Eight have started their small farming business on quarter acre lots.

"It's an incubation process, so over the course of three to four years, they're starting their business. By the time they're done here at the training farm, they are exposed to the huge cost of operating their business, and then they can take that on to their independent land here in the community," said Wuertz.

"Down the road, we'd like to have a big house with big land, and we want to live together, everyone, and we have to have a backyard, big vegetable garden," Tika said.

The Bhandaris started growing ginger and turmeric in Tika's dad's greenhouse this year. They hope to bring that to market soon.

The Global Greens Farmers Market is on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the LSI office, which is located at 3200 University Ave. in Des Moines. You’ll find 10 to 15 vendors selling their greens each week.