Refugees introduce new foods in neighborhood gardens, helping to feed the poor

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Some resettled refugees are celebrating Labor Day by selling the fruits of their labor to those eager to taste different foods from around the world. This unique fall food festival is happening at the Juniper Gardens public housing complex.

Fruits and vegetables you may have never seen before are being grown and sold at the complex as part of an effort to help new immigrants and to encourage healthier diets for those in the urban core.

Near downtown Kansas City, Kan., are eight acres of what used to be vacant land that has been turned into a training farm for neighborhood vegetable gardeners.

Many of the growers are refugees from Burma who plant specialty vegetables that are familiar to their native country but may not be so familiar to their new American neighbors coming to taste them.

Those living in public housing at Juniper Gardens didn't previously have access to fresh, home-grown fruits and vegetables. And one of the goals of the community gardens is to encourage poor people in the urban core to eat healthier by growing their own food.

"Say you've been traveling, you're in another country and you eat something that is familiar to you -- it feels like home," said Rachel Pollock of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. "That's a big thing. That's a big thing these farmers are doing here is providing the food that their community wants."

The partnership between the urban agriculture group, Cultivate KC, and the Catholic Charities New Roots for Refugees program has been a winning combination for everyone involved.

There's also a healthy cooking demonstration, where neighbors learn how to prepare home-grown vegetables like squash, tomatoes, potatoes and zucchini in tasty ways that show people there are alternatives to the fast food and convenience stores nearby.

After five years of hands-on training, many of the refugees become independent small business owners. That's why on this Labor Day, they are celebrating the success of their hard work: Being able to grow fresh, nutritious foods that fill a niche in the marketplace.

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