by Christina Saylor
The key to the success of the New Roots program of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Charlottesville has been the ability to blend social support to refugees with the region’s vibrant agricultural heritage to create community synergies and bring us all closer to the food we grow and eat. The New Roots Program in Charlottesville is part of a national effort of the IRC, and organization that was founded in 1933. The IRC in Charlottesville is the only local resettlement agency and provides essential services that support the successful integration of eligible immigrants.
New Roots strives to create a sense of community integration that revolves around our shared interest in the production and consumption of fresh food. To meet that goal, the program consists of multiple interconnected initiatives that work with New Americans in our community to support their health and wellness, community connection and household economics through food and agriculture.
The highlights of these efforts include the New Roots-operated community program that serves more than 60 families at 8 locations. New Roots also educates people and provides material support, facilitating the acquisition of new skills to adapt peoples’ previous farming experience to take advantage of local micro-production opportunities.
New Roots staff operate the Michie Market neighborhood farm stand where graduates of the Micro Producer Program can sell their produce and earn supplemental income (all income from the sales goes directly to the farmers). New Americans who participate in this program say that it instills them with a sense of pride because they are involved in providing something of value to the local community.
These farmers also have the opportunity to sell their produce to local restaurants, an innovative company called Small Axe Peppers and other outlets. New Roots provides support through other avenues as well, including advocating locally for a more just and healthful food system and funding matching incentives to New Americans which boosts their purchasing power when shopping for fresh food at participating locations.
This year New Roots is enhancing an existing community partnership of 4 years with Bellair Farm CSA. Bellair will continue to lend greenhouse space to the farmers at no cost and will now also provide land for the farmers to sow their crops. Bellair Farm CSA is very excited for the development because it presents opportunities to everyone to learn new farming techniques and practices. Bellair will also host cooking classes for the community where the farmers can share their regional cooking knowledge. The farmers will sell some of their produce as add-on shares to the CSA and Bellair will also purchase a portion of their harvests to complement and increase the variety of produce that Bellair provides to its members.
Bellair CSA members will be able to purchase this produce and support local New American farmers and the IRC during the CSA pickup at the farm on Saturdays.