Refugees turn Albany Park vacant lot into organic farm

WLS logo
Saturday, September 6, 2014
Refugees turn Albany Park vacant lot into organic farm
Forty-two families from Bhutan and Burma have turned a vacant lot into a farm.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- If you are for Burma, Bhutan or Congo, it might be a little difficult to make Chicago feel like home, but some refugees who have resettled here are creating new roots in the Albany Park neighborhood.

Forty-two families from Bhutan and Burma have turned a vacant lot into a farm. They grow organic vegetables to eat and sell to their neighbors. The Global Garden Refugee Training Farm, which started in 2012 is now tended by 100 families, including some from the Congo. It offers a rare a taste of home.

"When they go to the produce section, nothing looks quite the same," said farm manager Linda Seyler. "It's not familiar. There's squash there, but it's not the squash they knew. There's greens, but it's not the greens they knew. Here they're growing the greens that they knew."

Most of those who tend the garden were farmers in their native land. The Burmese refugees escaped when their country, now known as Myanmar, was under military rule. They spent as many as 20 years in a refugee camp in Thailand. Other refugees faced similar hardship. They say reconnecting with the soil gives them a sense of peace.

"Sometimes they are so stressed out from adjusting first time in this country," said Yvette Kyaw, Burmese refugee. "You don't have your job. You don't have work and enough money so they are thinking too much about everything on their minds. They come here and they relax and everything go away and they can think clearly."

The farmers use their crops to supplement their family's food supply as well as their income, but there is a learning curve.

"We have different kind of weather there and farming timing. Here we have a short period of time, May to September," Bhutanese refugee Hasta Bhattarei said. "We have to really, really be specific with time. If we fail the timing then the crops will not grow."

For many who are struggling to learn the language and adapt to the culture, this patch of land has also become a significant social network.

"They have no language to go around. They cannot make friends outside of their community," Bhattarei said. "When they are here, they have the opportunity to meet with friends."

The Global Garden Farmers Market runs Thursdays from 3 to 6 pm and Saturdays from 9 am to 1 pm.

For more information:!/pages/Global-Gardens-Refugee-Training-Farm/512136075471854