Refugees put down roots through Global Growers

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In Decatur, across from the Avondale MARTA station, there’s a little piece of Burundi.

They call it Umurima Wi Burundi—Burundi Women’s Farm—and it doesn’t look all that different from other plots in Decatur, except that there are crops growing on it. But that’s entirely the point. This little plot is where agrarian refugees who landed in one of America’s biggest cities can still practice the business they know: farming.

“We want to produce good food, we want to train farmers … and we want to create economic opportunity for the community,” says Susan Pavlin of Global Growers Network, an umbrella group that connects several small refugee garden and farm projects in metro Atlanta. “We are working with international farmers who are now here in metro Atlanta and growing their food locally and helping them plug in to that local food system.”

Pavlin founded the organization two years ago after meeting some Burundi refugees through her employer, Refugee Family Services. Once farmers, the refugees were at a loss as to how to make a living in a land of strip malls and fast-food restaurants in Stone Mountain. Pavlin found the little plot in Decatur and worked out a deal with its owners, the East Decatur Station Group, to permit the families to farm there. “They created a lease with us on extremely generous terms—$1 a month,” Pavlin says.

Now, Refugee Family Services sponsors the farm as well as Global Growers Network, which evolved as the project grew, Pavlin says. The farmers, who come from more than a dozen countries, keep some of the food for themselves sell some through a cooperative established by the network. You can buy their produce at Grant Park Farmers Market each Sunday.  

The network just keeps growing. It has established a training farm in Stone Mountain, where experienced farmers teach others refugees how to work the land. Two weeks ago, the group broke ground on another small piece of land near the Burundi Women’s Farm to expand that total available space there to ¾ acre. And Pavlin is now working on another deal, this one with the city of Decatur and DeKalb County, to create a 2-acre market garden—small family plots—at the United Methodist Children’s Home on Columbus Drive.

This Saturday, you can visit the Burundi Women’s Farm for yourself and learn more about Global Growers Network. The second Harvest Fest, from noon to 3 p.m., will feature international music and dance, local produce, children’s activities, and a stew and chili cook-off. Admission is $15 for adults, $5 for kids (children under age 5 admitted free). There are still a few spots left for the cook-off; get the details at globalgrowers.net. Purchase festival tickets in advance at Brown Paper Tickets.

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