Omaha Home for Boys operates Cooper Farm, which is a 100 acre farm within the city limits of Omaha which features vegetable crops, a high tunnel, laying hens, beef cattle, and seasonal sheep production. In addition, about 2 acres is used on the Omaha Home for Boys main campus for production. The New American Urban Farmer Program has been given about one acre of production space on the main campus with the possibility of adding additional space into production. Previous sustainable practices included cover crops, high tunnel, and organic practices that have been added to the farm within the past three years.
The New American Urban Farmer Program is a program to train refugees and new immigrants in agriculture and farm business best practices. The targeted participants are a part of 6,038 refugees living in Omaha, NE since 2011 in one of the largest food deserts in the city. Many of them struggle with barriers to housing, transportation, language, employment, and lack of a social network. The purpose of this initiative is to identify and measure indicators to teach best practices using sustainable farming methods to improve participant production and farm business skills and knowledge with the intent of New Americans learning to grow and increase culturally relevant healthy food choices for their family and community at-large and establishing roots in their new community. The program includes an incubator process where participants will practice their skills before being granted a vacant city lot to develop their own farm. An impact analysis of this project will explore new social networks for refugees and potential effects on connecting with their new home community. The project will also collect and analyze soil data to assess the impacts of regenerative farming on the vacant city lots.
- Train new Americans on best practices in sustainable urban farming.
- Reduce New Americans isolation and loneliness by helping to build connections to new homeland.
- Increase access to nutritious and healthy foods in low-income and at-risk populations.
- Investigate soil quality improvements with the New American’s native agricultural practices.
No research has been conducted as part of this project.
Educational & Outreach Activities
A pre-seaon planning meeting was held where participants shared the common crops that they grew in their home countries. This was primarily for purposes of selecting plants for the production season, but also provided cross-cultural sharing between the groups which were mainly Burmese, Thai, and Sudanese.
Bi-weekly hands-on demonstrations and work days throughout the growing season were led by Extension Educator John Porter for the refugee participants. Activity was focused on providing guidance for production tasks and offering improvements to sustainability such as irrigation an mulching that are not common in agricultural practices in their home countries. Sixteen different participants attended at least one of the demonstrations, with many of the participants attending most if not all demonstrations.
Four participants who speak English were chosen to attend Annie’s Project training hosted by Extension to learn about farm business basics and risk management practices. These participants will act as project leaders and share the information as needed with the rest of the participants.
One story was shared in the Midlands Business Journal about plans to help participants develop farm business practices (no links/copies available).
This grant has provided opportunities to educate local refugees and immigrants on farming practices and allow them production space at our facilities. From the participants in the program we learned:
- Common crops consumed by the immigrants in their home countries are not available locally for purchase, and instead they are often faced with produce they do not know how to prepare or develop unhealthy diets
- There are local marketing opportunities for ethnic specialty crops through local ethnic grocery stores
- Cross-cultural sharing results in a vibrant and diverse farm, with participants from different cultures sharing how their crops are similar and different.
The participants learned:
- Techniques for efficient production of crops, including trellising, mulching, and irrigation as opposed to previous, less-efficient means of production
- Cross-cultural sharing of crops and food culture
- Marketing opportunities for ethnic specialty crops
- Leadership to provide internal direction for farming project
One participant shared that the program allowed them to have the foods they remembered from home. The produce they grow on the farm is not available at local grocery stores or even ethnic markets. In fact, one of the prized crops, called dodo, is actually pigweed which most American farmers try to eliminate from their farms. Without the crops they know how to cook, American food can be confusing and they end up eating convenience foods or preparing unhealthy meals. For example, many African diets rely on vegetable stews rather than fresh, raw produce because in many areas the water needed to clean the produce is not safe for drinking or washing vegetables. The participant didn’t know what to do with lettuce when she first moved to the country, and still doesn’t like eating salad, but access to dodo and other produce items allows her to cook healthier home meals. She’s excited to be able to grow more dodo in the second year of the program so that it can be sold to others needing access to their desired produce items.
When one participant was attending the Annie’s Project farm business training, he indicated that learning about risk and insurance was important because the concept of insurance isn’t something that they have in his country. He found it useful to know that it was a need to produce food and sell it in the US.
Aside from the participants, the partnering organizations that are helping with the program have learned that access to ethnically appropriate foods are important for food and farm equity. Many immigrants cannot find the foods they are comfortable preparing, and while we may be able to teach them to prepare healthy American foods they much prefer the healthy meals they prepare from their native cuisines.