As Nar Basnet is transferring okra and bittermelon into a pan, a wave of a deep, spice-filled aroma hits the air as sizzling ensues. While she’s cooking for her and her daughter, she’s speaking about all the vegetables she grows in the International Rescue Committee’s New Roots community garden in English, a language that she just started learning five months ago.
Mustard greens, pumpkin leaves, okra, radishes — the same foods she grew while she lived in Bhutan.
New Roots is a national community garden program through the International Rescue Committee, an organization created to help immigrants and refugees rebuild their lives in the United States. The Dallas IRC manages four gardens throughout the city with a total of 37 gardeners.
Isabella Chamberlain, the Dallas New Roots coordinator, knows these gardeners so well that she can tell whose garden is whose just by the tools and methods each gardener brings from their own agrarian backgrounds.
One of the four gardens is located on Live Oak Street in East Dallas. This garden has many gardeners from Bhutan. Even when a gardener leaves, someone always knows someone else who could use that space.
New Roots recently welcomed a new gardener, Chali Sunwar, who brought one of his gardening tools, which Chamberlain calls a cultivator, all the way to the United States. Chamberlain was especially fascinated with this tool because she says she had never seen anything like it.
“They had to really pick and choose what they could bring here,” Chamberlain says. “It just goes to show how important land access and control of food is to them.”
Chamberlain says the garden is a social ground for many of the New Roots clients, and she enjoys seeing them grow as they realize what they are capable of.
“Food and gardening have a huge healing aspect of returning to the land or having responsibility over land,” Chamberlain says. “I’ve seen people, especially the women, really grow with confidence.”
When a gardener joins a New Roots garden, they get four beds to produce. They receive sustainable farming training and typically come to the garden two to three days per week. When a gardener cannot keep up with this, others, including Basnet, step up to help.
“When one family is busy, they water their plots,” Chamberlain says. “I’ve seen them harvest for each other, too. It’s very collaborative.”
Basnet comes to the garden only once a week, but while she’s there, she puts in effort to help those around her. After she harvests the fresh food, she cooks it for her family or gives it to neighbors.
“I like to bring for my neighbors and friends,” Basnet says. “Sometimes I give for a little money or I give for free.”
The garden is not only a space for immigrants to gain confidence and form community; it also serves a practical purpose. Basnet sometimes sells the food she grows, but it also saves her about $40 a week in buying fresh produce from the grocery store.
“It is organic, it is little money, it is healthy,” Basnet says.
Chamberlain helps with selling the gardeners’ food at local markets, and the farmers make 100% of what they sell. Right now she sells at the Northwest Community Center on their distribution days and the White Rock Farmers Market. Starting late March, New Roots will be selling to the Vickery Meadow community at Five Points, as well.
If you are interested in volunteering with New Roots, visit their website.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.