Category: Stories

New Roots: Building Thriving Gardens and Communities

“I am very lucky -- my happiness knows no bounds," Krishna Biswa says while walking among rows of healthy lettuce, robust basil, and vibrant beets. His close-knit family and thriving garden plots are among his greatest joys.

“I have a beautiful granddaughter who’s 14 months old," he continues, beaming. "She visits the garden sometimes, and she loves snap peas and cucumbers.” 

Krishna’s parents, siblings, and children also enjoy the fresh, tasty produce he grows at Namaste Community Garden and Namuna Garden in Tukwila. For their family, growing and sharing food is a beloved tradition. 

Krishna recalls his parents producing corn, greens, rice, cardamom, and oranges in Bhutan, their country of origin. After resettling in South King County as refugees in 2010, they've have been able to garden again thanks to the IRC New Roots program.  

New Roots builds on the agricultural experience of many refugee and immigrant families by providing access to land, materials, and education for program participants to grow healthy food. Through a partnership with landowner St. Thomas Catholic Church, IRC began connecting resettled refugees with Namaste Community Garden plots in 2010.  

Jit Gajmer holds a turnip he helped grow in Tukwila.

“We are very lucky to have this garden because we are able to practice our gardening traditions, and the produce we grow here is very good,” says Krishna, who started tending a plot at Namaste Community Garden in 2012. “It’s supporting our family and reducing grocery expenses.” 

Krishna’s parents and brother also tend plots at Namaste Community Garden, and they love exchanging advice for growing organic food with their fellow gardeners, families from Bhutan and Myanmar. 

“I have a lot of friends in Namaste Garden,” Krishna says. “They have their own way of growing, and sometimes I learn from them, and sometimes they learn from us.” 

Namuna, an exemplary garden 

Raj Rai waters crops at Namuna Garden.

Food Innovation Network partnered with New Roots to start selling Namaste Garden’s produce to community members at Tukwila Village in 2018. That summer, two customers mentioned to New Roots staff member Kamal Adhikari that they had a big backyard in Tukwila that they’d happily make available to growers. Within months, Krishna and four other gardeners were transforming the expansive lawn into a flourishing agricultural space.   

They called it Namuna Garden, meaning Example Garden, Kamal explained. It’s an example both of community members sharing their land with growers, and of the excellent produce that can be grown in such spaces. 

Four growers stand in their garden.
Namuna Garden growers. From left: Raj Rai, Krishna Biswa, Jit Gajmer, and Santa Biswa. Jit Kami, not pictured, is the fifth grower.

The five growers who tend Namuna Garden are all graduates of New Roots’ Micro-Producer Academy, an eight-week program that teaches budgeting, crop planning, irrigation, and other essential skills. They’re putting their knowledge to work this season at the new Tukwila Village Farmers Market, where they operate booths to sell produce from both Namaste Community Garden and Namuna Garden. 

Their produce has been so popular that they sometimes sell out of items within an hour of the market opening. No problem – a grower will head a few blocks to the gardens to harvest more. Food doesn’t get much fresher or more local than that. 

“We love bringing good seasonal vegetables to the farmers market,” Krishna says. “We’re happy to see a lot of diverse people there, and to meet customers.” 

The gardeners hope that sharing their produce can help spread some of the happiness that they've enjoyed while growing it. 

Meet the growers 

Namaste Community Garden and Namuna Garden growers sell produce at Tukwila Village Farmers Market on Wednesdays from 4-7 p.m. Come out to meet them, along with Wakulima USA gardeners and other local food producers. And keep an eye on our website for more spotlights on local growers! 

Namaste Community Garden and Namuna Garden growers sell their produce at Tukwila Village Farmers Market.
Namaste Community Garden and Namuna Garden growers sell their produce at Tukwila Village Farmers Market.

 

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Wakulima USA Supports Local Farmers and Grows Hope

David Bulindah is one of the local food growers you’ll meet at the new Tukwila Village Farmers Market. Together with Dickson Macharia, he co-founded Wakulima USA, a nonprofit that helps immigrants connect with agricultural land and grow crops in South King County.  

Wakulima is Swahili for farmers; the organization's name reflects their initial group of eight food growers who are immigrants from east and central Africa.

“We are trying to encourage our farming practices because many of us were farmers in our home countries,” David said. “When we come here, it’s something we find we can be able to do, and that we do out of passion.” 

Wakulima USA focuses on growing culturally relevant food – nutritious vegetables that David and Dickson grew up eating in Kenya. Some plants like amaranth and spiderplant are rare in the Seattle area, while others such as kale and collard greens are more common. 

David takes inspiration from his mother, an urban farmer in Kenya’s Rift Valley. 

“We were too poor to own land, and we lived in the city. But my mother would go up on the side of the road and plant amaranth, corn, and other things. So we were able to survive and get something to eat,” he said. 

David Bulindah stands in a garden holding radishes
David Bulindah holds a tiny fraction of Wakulima USA's radish harvest on a sunny day at Sonju Community Garden. This spring, Wakulima USA donated more than 60 pounds of radishes to the Des Moines Area Food Bank.

“It gives you a sense of hope” 

Now a mental health therapist, David sees farming as a source of nourishment for not only the body, but also the mind. 

“It’s therapy for me,” he laughed. “We put the seeds in the ground, and every day we have to water them, and we see how they’re coming up. And then you wake up, you see a tomato there -- it gives you a sense of hope.” 

He loves to share the practice of gardening with others, including his children and nieces.  

“I bring them here to see how to plant the crops -- because most kids don’t understand where food comes from,” he said. 

David’s wife, Irene, agrees that it’s important to pass along farming knowledge to the next generation. 

“People need to learn about farming. We kind of walked away from it, but there’s now a big new push to know where this food is coming from. It’s hard to know what’s in it when it’s done by somebody else, somewhere miles away,” Irene said.

For Irene, the flavors of fresh produce are an added benefit: "There's a big difference when you grow your own food. You think it’s a cliché, but the taste is different straight from the garden.” 

Irene waters a garden
Irene Bulindah grew up tending her family's farm outside Nairobi. She said it feels like coming full circle when her family helps out in Wakulima USA's garden.

Finding space to grow 

Locating agricultural land has been Wakulima USA’s biggest challenge. They reached out to local organizations, and Highline Urban Agricultural Garden helped them connect with a plot at the City of Des Moines’ Sonju Community Garden. Wakulima USA also works land in Kent thanks to World Relief Seattle.  

Earlier this year, Wakulima partnered with Highline, King Conservation District, and FIN to present a workshop on farming in King County. Turnout was great, and more than 30 growers have asked Wakulima USA for support to start growing food in our region. The growers are on a waitlist as the organization works to locate more land. 

One creative solution Wakulima USA came up with is collaborating with local property owners.

“We're trying to find senior citizens who have space on their property, who used to love gardening, and who can’t do it anymore. We would go there and volunteer, and clean it up, and put in a small community garden,” David said.  

As Wakulima USA grows little by little, they have a grand vision for the future: a 20-acre farm with a research center where they would work with scientists to study the nutritional and medicinal values of crops like amaranth. They also envision an on-site restaurant that would give visitors a true farm-to-table experience. 

For now, David and the other Wakulima USA farmers are excited to share their delicious, nutritious produce with community members at Tukwila Village Farmers Market

Connect with Wakulima USA

Are you a property owner who's interested in working with Wakulima USA to build a community garden on your land? Are you looking for opportunities to get involved in community farming? Contact David and Dickson at wakulimausa@gmail.com.

 

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Meet Jalissa Horton, Owner of Boujee Food & Things!

With family roots in the American South, Jalissa Horton acquired a taste for soul food as a child. By age 13, Jalissa was preparing full-course meals for her family, and she developed her love of cooking making family recipes passed down through generations. Jalissa’s mother nurtured her passion by allowing her to turn their home into a weekend restaurant for family, friends, and co-workers. In high school, Jalissa learned cooking fundamentals at a culinary vocational program, and then received a scholarship to the prestigious College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University. After earning her degree, she studied Italian cuisine at the Florence University of Arts School of Culinary Arts in Italy. A new member of FIN’s Food Business Incubator, Jalissa is continuing her culinary journey through her new business, Boujee Food & Things, which specializes in reimagined comfort food. Check out Boujee Food & Things’ website and catering menu, and find Jalissa at FIN’s Taste Around the Globe booth at Pike Place MarketFront on June 8, and at Renton Farmers Market on June 11 and 18. (Subscribe to FIN’s e-newsletter for updates on future Taste Around the Globe events.) You can also try bites from Boujee Food & Things at our June 13 Food and Fashion Makers Night fundraising event, where FIN food businesses will offer up delicious samples. In the meantime, enjoy our Q&A with Jalissa! 

Tell us about your business. 

Boujee Food & Things is a one-of-a-kind catering and novelty business. We create products for fellow “foodies” who live for delicious food and love unique culinary experiences.  

What makes Boujee Food & Things different from other food businesses? 

We present a fusion of Southern American cuisine and international spices to create a unique experience. I take pride in making everything from scratch, using authentic and natural ingredients for all dishes.  

What inspired you to start this business? 

For me, the name “Boujee” means elevation, which I apply to my life. I started this business because I love to cook for others -- my food is authentic and made with love. I have spent my entire career in the restaurant industry. I live, eat, and breathe food. It’s not a hobby for me, but a way of life. Boujee cake

What are some of your most popular menu items? 

Mouth-watering smoked meats, fried chicken, macaroni & cheese, sweet potato pies and other desserts, specialty ice teas, homemade condiments, and sandwiches. 

What’s been the biggest challenge in launching your business, and where did you find help? 

Finance has been the biggest hurdle, and FIN has been a big help to me. I have peace of mind now, and I am so excited for the future! 

 

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Introducing Monica Wachira, Owner of Monique’s Hot Kitchen!

The culinary arts have been Monica Wachira's passion since she started learning to cook at age 5. She went on to study catering, and has worked in restaurants for more than 10 years. Her love of preparing and sharing healthy food led her to join our Food Business Incubator and launch her own business, Monique’s Hot Kitchen, this spring.   Check out Monique’s Hot Kitchen’s catering menuand find Monica at FIN’s Taste Around the Globe booth at the Federal Way Farmers Market on July 6, and at our new Tukwila Village Farmers Market on July 3. (Stay tuned for more Taste Around the Globe dates.)  You can also meet Monica at our Food and Fashion Makers Night fundraising event, where FIN food businesses will offer up samples of their delicious cuisine. In the meantime, enjoy our Q&A with Monica! 

Tell us about your business. 

Monique’s Hot Kitchen is a catering business making authentic Kenyan food 

What inspired you to start Monique’s Hot Kitchen? 

Every time people come to my house, I cook for them and serve them as if they’re in a restaurant. They like my hospitality and they are happy about my food. They say, “Wow, I felt like I was in a five-star restaurant! You should open a restaurant!”  They see that this is my passion. When you do something you love, it will come out perfect. I make food with love, and I take pride in what I do in the kitchen. 

What makes Monique’s Hot Kitchen different from other food businesses? 

[caption id="attachment_2984" align="alignright" width="300"]Monique's Hot Kitchen's pilau rice, mukimo, and samosas. Monique's Hot Kitchen's pilau rice, mukimo, and samosas.[/caption] I make food from scratch using natural ingredients, and fresh, high-quality spices. I can taste the difference between natural and unnatural food. [Where I grew up] in Kenya you could grow things in the garden and take them straight to the kitchen -- no GMOs. That’s what I like, and why I use organic food. I want to feed people healthy food. There is so much disease these days caused by unhealthy food. 

What do you like most about your work? 

I love it when I know I’ve done the best job, and my customers are satisfied. 

What have been the biggest challenges in launching your business? What resources have helped? 

The challenges have been figuring out where to start, how to start, choosing my business name, and accessing capital! Connecting with FIN and getting coaching from Kerrie Carbary have been a big help. 

What would you say to other aspiring food business owners? 

Go for what you believe in, don’t give up, and look for resources around you. FIN is a great resource – you can’t go wrong working with them. 

 

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Video: Mamá Tila Catering Spices Up Events With Authentic Mexican Food

Over the last few weeks, we've shared videos profiling each of our Food Business Incubator program participants. It's time for our fifth and final video, which features Mamá Tila Catering: Ofelia named Mamá Tila after her mother, who was known as the best cook in her town. Ofelia takes her time preparing authentic dishes from across Mexico, including many of her mother’s recipes. Check out Mamá Tila’s menu! And if you haven't yet seen all of our business profile videos, catch up now:

 

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Video: Sherehe Kenya Kitchen’s Tasty Meals Are Made From Scratch

We're continuing to roll out videos about participants in our Food Business Incubator, and this week we're featuring Sherehe Kenya Kitchen. Sherehe Kenya Kitchen founder Lucy loves sharing healthy meals using recipes she learned from her mother. Don’t miss her chicken curry, samosas, and ginger chai. Check out Sherehe Kenya Kitchen’s menu, and stay tuned for more videos in our business profile series!

 

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Video: Taste of Congo Serves Up Unique Flavors

It's time for another video in our profile series of FIN food businesses! This week we're featuring Taste of Congo: The only Congolese food business in our region, Taste of Congo offers a one-of-a-kind experience! Founder Caroline encourages you to try her beignets, which can be enjoyed any time of day. Check out Taste of Congo's menu, and stay tuned for more videos in our business profile series.

 

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Video: Naija Buka Is Always a Crowd-Pleaser

It's time for the second video in our FIN food business profile series! This week we are featuring Naija Buka: Chef Lilian makes delicious, authentic Nigerian cuisine. Try Naija Buka's popular jollof rice, as well as fried plantains, peppersoup, puff-puffs, and more. Check out their pop-up event at Project Feast's Ubuntu Street Café on March 9! Can't wait that long to get your fix? Visit Naija Buka's new website to see their menu and make your order. Then stay tuned for the next video in our business profile series.

 

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Video: Soozveen Mediterranean Catering Owners Cook With Love

We're excited to share the first of five videos profiling FIN Food Business Incubator participants! This week the spotlight is on Soozveen Mediterranean Catering. Sisters Sheelan and Zozan founded Soozveen because they wanted to share family recipes and stories. Try their dolmas, hummus, falafel, and other dishes made from scratch and flavored with the spices of Northern Iraq. And don't forget dessert -- their baklava and jasmine cookies are out of this world! Check out Soozveen’s menu, learn more about our Food Business Incubator, and stay tuned for videos featuring Sherehe Kenya Kitchen, Naija Buka, Mamá Tila Catering, and Taste of Congo coming out over the next four weeks!

 

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“It’s Changed My Life”: Namaste Farm Stand Helps Community Members Improve Their Health

As we closed Namaste Farm Stand’s second season with a celebration dinner, community members told us about their experiences at the stand. Hear what they had to say in our new video: Maria told us that easy access to fresh vegetables helped her control her diabetes. Clo said that her body was healing, and that she also felt better in mind and spirit. Melody shared that she’d lost 60 pounds in the five months since she started visiting the farm stand. She said she learned about nutrition from our partners at WSU Extension’s Food $ense, who provided cooking demonstrations at our Tukwila location. [caption id="attachment_2607" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Bike blender smoothie production WSU Extension's Food $ense team and FIN staff provided a total of 28 demos of how to turn farm stand produce into delicious meals and snacks. Bike blender smoothies facilitated by Anna from Food $ense were always popular items.[/caption]   Maria, Clo, and Melody were among hundreds of community members who visited Namaste Farm Stand in Tukwila and SeaTac this season, which ran from early June until late October. We sold fruits, vegetables, and herbs from local producers including IRC New Roots’ Community Garden (Tukwila), Faith Beyond Farms (Enumclaw), and Collins Family Orchard (Selah) at affordable prices. [caption id="attachment_2609" align="aligncenter" width="500"]growers prepare food Community members who grow food at New Roots' Namaste Community Garden helped prepare our celebration dinner.[/caption]   The farm stand launched in 2017 with 10 farm stand days at Matt Griffin YMCA in SeaTac. In 2018, we added a second location at Tukwila Village Plaza and extended the number of stand days to 39. In August, we were approved to accept SNAP/EBT, and began doubling customers’ EBT dollars through the Fresh Bucks program. Namaste Farm Stand is operated by Food Innovation Network and International Rescue Committee’s New Roots program with support from the City of Tukwila, Kona Kai, Communities of Opportunity, Les Dames d’ Escoffier, Matt Griffin YMCA, SHAG, and WSU Extension. Thanks to our partners, food producers, and customers for a fantastic season! We look forward to starting our third season in June of 2019. [caption id="attachment_2608" align="aligncenter" width="500"]community dinner We had a great time eating fresh produce with our wonderful community at our celebration dinner.[/caption]

 

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