Theresa Allan can’t help but overhear the conversations in the New Roots garden near Azalea Park. Oftentimes, she sees younger children tag along with their older relatives to aid in their plot of land.

It’s not uncommon for younger people to not be as engaged with the garden as their elders are. Yet, Allan, who works as the farm manager, finds a way to catch the little moments of cultural education between the families in a land thousands of miles away from their homes.

“I love that the garden can be a setting for that exchange of knowledge,” she said.

New Roots welcomes immigrants, refugees and new gardeners and offers a space for them to grow and harvest special crops, such as mustard greens, bitter melon and cassava.

The program started back in 2013 as a small community garden and now hosts plots of land all throughout the city of Charlottesville.The farm is a part of the International Rescue Committee, a global organization dedicated to helping those affected by humanitarian crises. Many gardeners at New Roots discovered the farm through the international organization.

Gardeners at the farm have free range with the produce — participants can use the crops for their own consumption or sell the produce through the farm’s Micro-Producer program. Those in the Micro-Producer program can sell their produce in wholesale or direct-to-consumer markets, such at the IX Farmer’s Market at IX Art Park.

Theresa Allan shows off some of the crops grown at New Roots. Eze Amos/Collectbritain.

Prospective farmers submit a paper application for a plot of land prior to the start of the growing season. Once approved, participants pay a fee for the space ranging from $20 to upwards of $100 depending on the size. Seniority is applied for returning gardeners.

New Roots produced 117,000 pounds of food between 85 families across the farm’s seven sites in 2020 alone, according to Allan. On average, gardeners at the farm save roughly $404 in groceries each year, she said.

It’s easier for gardeners to establish themselves at the farm after they’ve acclimated to the city. Allan said many of the gardeners have been in the country for a number of years before submitting an application.

A smile spreads across Allan’s face whenever she interacts with a gardener at a site. Each gardener comes with a different story and reason for why they’re there, but it all comes down to the same point — it’s a way to connect to their culture.

“For displaced people, they haven’t had a place to put down roots or a place they can call their own for many, many years,” Allan said. “So once they’re resettled here, the garden provides a really nice anchor for them.”

New Roots isn’t meant to be an emergency response for refugees, Allan said. Rather it’s a way for immigrants refugees to be a part of a long term developmental program throughout their time in the United States.

“We’re really trying to stay engaged with people and give them opportunities for many years.” Allan said. 

Volunteers at New Roots Charlottesville. Eze Amos/Collectbritain.

New Roots is now approaching its off season. The farming season kicks off in April and slows down toward November as crops start to falter due to the freezing weather. Many of the gardeners have harvested and preserved their crops for the upcoming months.

The organization also holds workshops on preserving food once harvested. Many gardeners have canned, dried, fermented or froze their produce.

The work does not stop in the winter months. Starting November, volunteers and workers at the farm prepare for the upcoming season by conducting end of year-surveys, repairing gardening tools and equipment, ordering seeds, cultivating crops that build the soil and more.

“[There’s] never a dull moment,” Allan said.

For Cecilia Lapp Stoltzfus, working at the garden is a way for her to aid immigrants in their farming goals. Like Allan, she savors the moments she’s able to interact with the gardeners and learn more about them and their crops.

“This is not only a way to grow calories but a way to maintain and pass along traditional farming and food practices,” Lapp Stoltzuz said. 

I'm Collectbritain's education and families reporter. Reach out to me by email or on Twitter. Also, subscribe to our newsletter! C’mon, it’s free.