Cultural Exchange Grows on IFFS Farm

Everywhere you look today refugees are in the news, even here at IFFS! The Food Shuttle Farm is providing garden space for a dozen families of displaced people from Myanmar. NCSU Cooperative Extension connected the local Karen community with the Food Shuttle to establish a space where they can use traditional techniques to grow foods they are familiar with. Kay Coleman, IFFS Farm Manager says “they are amazing farmers … they can do more with just this hoe than we can do with a tractor!” The Karen people of eastern Burma (Myanmar), an ethnic minority with an agricultural tradition, have been in conflict with the Burmese government since the late 1940s. The first Karen refugees arrived in the Triangle in 2004. Now there are about 2000 families in the area, but they struggle adapting to life in the United States.

Htoo Saw, a leader in the Karen community, gives generously of his time as a translator and cultural ambassador. He says the value of the garden to his people is immeasurable. “We are very grateful for this place where we can remember our homeland, our children can play outdoors in the fresh air, and we grow our own foods. This is how life was for us before.” Luckily, our climate is perfect for a lot of their traditional foods: water gourd, pumpkin, eggplants, okra, and yard-long beans all thrive here. The families tending garden plots grow enough food for their own families, as well as enough to share with their neighbors—something they can build new friendships on.

Kay says “having the families here has been a blessing to this farm. Their work ethic is amazing. We are learning from each other--they want to know how we do things here, and I am excited to see their traditional ways. We are so honored to have this opportunity!”