Tuesday, May 7

Sustainable South: Transplanting Traditions Community Farm

Here at the SFA, excitement stirs when we learn of communities setting a table where all may gather. The Transplanting Traditions Community Farm (TTCF) is one of those communities. Located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the TTCF is a vocational agricultural program that works to build economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially sustainable local agricultural opportunities for refugees in the area.

Through its farming programs, the non-profit seeks to address the challenges of food insecurity, healthy food access, and economic well being in the refugee and immigrant community. It strives to honor the agricultural traditions of the participating families’ native lands, as well as to supplement their training with sustainable techniques specific to North Carolina. The TTCF provides growing space for each farmer, marketing workshops, and outlets for agricultural products. Last year, the farm was supported by a 26-member CSA subscription program, which brought over $11,000 in income directly to the participating refugees.

Most of the 140 participants are Karen—an ethnic population of Burma, also known as Myanmar. Since 2007, immigrants from Burma have represented the second largest group of refugees to the United States. In North Carolina, they are the fastest-growing group, with nearly 1,000 entering the state each year.

It makes sense for this population to be relocated to North Carolina, says program manager Kelly Owensby. The long, hot, and humid summers are similar to the Burmese climate. In the summertime, the farm transforms into a tropical paradise that reminds many of home. They grow nearly thirty different Southeast Asian tropical vegetables, such as Roselle Hibiscus and Snake Gourds, which allows the farmers to hold on to a piece of their agrarian culture, despite relocation far from home. However, the winters here are shocking to them, especially at first, she adds. In fact, much of the educational programming at TTCF is geared toward training the participants on how to farm throughout four seasons, with cool-season crops—such as greens and turnips—that many have never seen before.

Maintaining its agrarian culture has not limited the refugee community unto itself, however. The families are eager to adapt and embrace American culture. According to Kelly, one of the most important aspects of the TTCF is the impact the Karen families are having in making the Chapel Hill area diverse. The flavorful Burmese cuisine at fundraising events has many locals asking of the project, “When are you starting a restaurant?” 

While plans for a restaurant may not be in the future, the TTCF is currently fundraising in order to continue its efforts this fall. For more information, visit the TTCF website or their indiegogo page.

In 2011, before we had heard of TTCF, we collected oral histories with farmers and customers at the nearby Carrboro Farmers' Market. To read those stories, click here.

Emilie Dayan, our office intern/assistant/chief collaborator, blogs weekly about issues of nutrition, sustainability, and food policy in the South.