Meet the vendors: New Roots for Refugees farmers

Meet the vendors: New Roots for Refugees farmers
Posted on 07/10/2019
New Roots for Refugees farmers Moe Thu, Khin Hrin Pan, Ibrahim DuguduThree vendors at the Lenexa Farmers Market hail from countries as far away as Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are part of New Roots for Refugees, a four-year program run by Catholic Charities and Cultivate KC that empowers refugee families to start farm businesses. They sell primarily through farmers markets, community supported agriculture and wholesale to restaurants. 

There are currently 16 farmers in the New Roots for Refugees program, with four graduating each year. Once accepted into the program, the farmers are taught how to cultivate produce in the Kansas climate according to organic standards. 

During the first year of the program, they are given all the supplies they need to farm a quarter-acre plot of land at the Juniper Gardens Training Farm in Kansas City, Kansas. Each year they become more self-sufficient. By the fourth year, they are fully self-sufficient in farming, graduate from the program and move on to find their own land to continue farming. During the winter months when farmers cannot be out in the field, they learn English, farm management, money practices, marketing and other classes to be great farmers. During the growing season, they are helped with their farming practices including weekly walk-throughs with farming staff. The program functions with several full time paid staff and a large volunteer staff. 

Khin Hrin Pan

Khin is from Burma in southeast Asia, where she farmed 6 acres of produce including corn, peas and tomatoes. She is a first-year farmer with New Roots for Refugees. She loves to farm and likes to eat everything except fennel.

The biggest difference in farming in Kansas is having to water crops daily. Khin says that she only had to weed in Burma. Khin wants to learn what to grow here and when is the best time to grow each crop. While in Burma, she says she was great at growing sunflowers, which happen to be her new home’s state flower! 

Khin sells at the market on Tuesdays.

Ibrahim Dugudu

Ibrahim Dugudu is from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, where he farmed everything. In Congo, Ibrahim taught school for two years prior to farming. He taught math, language, geography and history to younger children, but eventually turned to farming. 

Ibrahim says there is plenty of farm land in Africa, making it easy expand a farming operation. In Congo, he did not have to actively water his crops, only to plant, weed and harvest them. In the U.S., there are more regulations on where and how you can sell your produce. In Africa, the seasons were not distinctly different, which allowed Ibrahim to plant everything, including bananas, avocados, sugarcane and mangos. He especially likes tree fruit because, once planted, a tree would produce for 30 years. Here, he is limited in terms of what he can grow. 

Ibrahim’s favorites are muchicha (amaranth greens) and arugula, a pepper green that he hadn’t tried before farming in Kansas. He also enjoys sewing and is anxious to get a new sewing machine soon.

Ibrahim says being known for what you have done in life is an important legacy to leave your family. He is the father of nine children, in addition to raising his sister’s four children. His two youngest daughters enjoy being at the farm with him, and he is often in trouble if he leaves home without them. They work alongside their father each Saturday at the market. 

Moe Thu 

Originally from Burma, Moe is in the second year of the New Roots for Refugees. He used to farm 30 to 40 acres there. He describes farming as both a hobby and a job.

Learning what to grow here in Kansas can be a challenge. For example, he is unable to grow peanuts here, but carrots grow very well. (Seriously, Moe grows some of the most beautiful baby carrots!) In Burma, Moe used cows rather than machines to work his land. He would like to try growing strawberries and blueberries one day. 

Moe and his family love eating green beans and potatoes but admits they are not fond of chard. Moe and his wife, Fom Chin, are at our Saturday market, and both always have the warmest smiles on their faces.