Growing Refugee Population Prompts Need for More Community Gardens

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DES MOINES, Iowa — After the Sunday morning church service let out, members of the Westminster Presbyterian Church gathered at the grand opening of a community garden on what once was an old parking lot.

“It was sort of an eye sore and were finally able to put it towards beneficial use,” says church member and garden volunteer, Jeff Geerts.

The parking lot now serves as a cultural learning experience. The refugee garden is a space refugees can call their own. The 11,000 square – foot garden is made up of 21 plots, which have all be claimed.

“We really think that gardening and raising our own food is a language we all speak and we’re all going to learn from here,” says Geerts.

The garden will help put food on refugee families tables and advocates say it also gives them a sense of familiarity.

“It makes them feel more at home,” says Lynette Thornton, a community garden associate with the Lutheran Services in Iowa. “All the refugees I have met were gardeners from their original countries.”

The Lutheran Services of Iowa partners with about 20 other similar gardens across the community but finding the right location to start a garden can be a challenge.

Thornton says transportation poses a big problem for gardeners. She stresses the need to have gardens where large refugee populations live. Organizations like LSI rely on churches, private land owners and the city to supply the land and for donors to supply garden tools and supplies.

More garden plots are needed in the River Bend and Mondamin Presidential neighborhoods. For more information on how you can help, click here.