On September 27, local farmers and community members gathered for a tour of Transplanting Traditions Community Farm, located on the Irvin Nature Preserve in Chapel Hill. With CRAFT United Piedmont followers, neighbors, and Triangle Land Conservancy members in attendance, the tour had over 35 attendees! A blend of farmer incubator, cultural preservation project, and community engaged educational program, Transplanting Traditions Community Farm creates a space for Karen Burmese refugee families to continue practicing and building upon the deep knowledge and agricultural skills they brought from their home country.
Transplanting Traditions began as a community garden project, but when families expressed the need for more land in order to grow more like they did in Burma— more extensively and with traditional Asian crops—the nonprofit partnered with Triangle Land Conservancy to create the farm on the beautiful Irvin Nature Preserve. Small community garden plots allowed the families to grow some of the crops they grew at home, like greens, herbs, and smaller vegetables, but the expanded farm space allows them to grow crops like rice, sesame, more extensive vegetables, and fruit trees. Families also have their own chicken coops for a steady supply for eggs to eat and sell.
Feels Like Home
The striking variety and beauty of the many unfamiliar crops grown on this farm indicate immediately to newcomers that very specific cultural practices are at play. Plots are diverse, colorful mosaics of both familiar vegetables like corn, tomatoes and squash, and tropical plants such as lemongrass, ginger, bird’s eye chili peppers, hibiscus, bitter melon, gourds and long beans. Trellises and arbors constructed with tree branches and bamboo of varying shapes and sizes create multiple levels of production, and dozens of varieties are intercropped within one bed. The visual result is stunning, and due to the high crop diversity and practices like crop rotation, farm productivity is also impressive.
The high productivity and diversity of this farm allows families not only to eat and cook much like they did in their home country, but to reap an economic benefit from their preexisting skills. When new families join the farm, they go through one year of training on marketing their produce and adapting to this shortened growing season. Workshops on various topics are offered twice a week by Transplanting Traditions staff for families just starting out, and for veteran families wanting to keep deepening their knowledge. After this training year, families can begin selling their produce at the farmer’s market and through the Transplanting Traditions CSA program, which runs from May through October. Helping families make money is a primary goal of this program, and through the CSA, market sales, and on-farm sales, farmers have many avenues to make money selling both Asian vegetables and familiar North Carolina produce.
The Next Generation
Beyond the goal of economic connections and business skills development, Transplanting Traditions uses the farm as a platform for youth leadership development and childhood education. Teen programs seek to build skills in communication, leadership and job readiness. Tatha, an 8th grader whose parents are first-year farmers at Transplanting Traditions, helped lead the Saturday tour and did a fantastic job describing his home country and how his family farmed, ate, and lived there. Teens are currently working on a documentary about Burma. Children’s programs also build knowledge and skills in nutrition, cooking, and awareness of nature through a 10-week summer program that brings the farm to life with laughter, games, and whole-family connection.
Transplanting Traditions beautifully demonstrates the embeddedness of farming in culture and community; the ability to continue familiar and valuable skills, perpetuate traditional Karen knowledge and practice, and connect through the land with their whole families and broader refugee community creates a space of both familiarity and growth. Transplanting Traditions helps to highlight the skills these families have brought with them to this country, and help assist in the process of adapting these skills to something of great market value.
The CRAFT United Piedmont visit to Transplanting Traditions was an eye-opening and fun day of learning about a unique and highly impressive farming community. Through CRAFT, we hope to continue diversifying our knowledge of farming practices and the ways that farming can elevate and connect our communities.
Check out Transplanting Traditions at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays, and read more about them at transplantingtraditions.com!
The Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT), United Piedmont is a farmer-to-farmer training coalition facilitated by Inter-Faith Food Shuttle to support the professional development of beginning farmers.
CRAFT is built on the belief that farmers learn most effectively from other farmers. CRAFT aims to streamline farmer training and networking opportunities in our region, creating more resources for entry into farming careers. The coalition of new and established farmers is dedicated to creating a more just and sustainable food system in Central NC through community resource development.
By Hannah Ross, IFFS Regional Farmer Training Programs Coordinator. Contact: Hannah@FoodShuttle.org