A Growing Community

Hands pulling weeds

A member of Women of Realizing Our Community carefully pulls weeds at a new community garden in Greeley.

Photo by Barry LaPoint

Flash Player Must be installed.

Maria Sanchez, director of Realizing Our Community, talks about the new community garden in Greeley.

View Larger Version

The Greeley farmers market has been a way for the community to come together and show off the fruits of their labor since 1993. This year, a project spearheaded by the University of Northern Colorado hopes to bring some new members of the community to the market to sell produce.

The new community members are documented immigrants and refugees who are growing vegetables and herbs as part of the Fresh Food Initiative, a project coordinated by the Women of Realizing Our Community program.

Women of the ROC is an offshoot of Realizing Our Community, a partnership between UNC and more than 20 local civic and non-profit organizations that offers programs to help immigrant and refugee newcomers integrate into the community.

WROC teaches refugee women - who are usually left at home during the day while their husbands work - skills such as cooking, sewing and basic English.

UNC faculty members and students joined with volunteers, sponsors and local governmental bodies in May to develop a community garden in which 10 ROC participants, mostly from Burma, are nurturing a variety of plantings.

"It's really more than just about community gardens," ROC director Maria Sanchez said. "It's about working together with the community."

Sanchez said the refugees look forward to working in the garden.

"Their apartments are crowded, so they like to come to the garden as much as possible," Sanchez said. "Whenever they are here, they want to water and weed everyone else's plots too."

According to Sanchez, UNC Dietetics Professor Jamie Erskine has been teaching the women how to use everything in the garden to make nutritious meals for their families.

"They eat the onion stems, the zucchini leaves, everything," Sanchez said.

The main purpose of the garden is to teach the women how to be self-sufficient. So, until they have enough vegetables to sell, all of their produce will be taken home to their families.

Everyone involved with the project is excited about the potential of the farmers market, although they are expecting some hurdles as well.

Between the language barriers and the fact that the women are not familiar with our currency, selling at the farmers market may prove challenging.

But, considering how many challenges they have overcome so far, these learning experiences have become part of the daily routine for everyone involved.

Carolyn Wright, a junior majoring in Elementary Education, has been involved in the program since January.

"We're helping them with their vocabulary, but I ask questions, and they teach me too," Wright said.

After the farmers market, the women will work on projects inside. They'll continue working on their English skills, and they're also learning how to sew scrubs, which they will sell later this year.

This sewing project, started by Anthropology professor Sally McBeth, is being run by community volunteer Sheila Bolsover, who herself is an immigrant from England.

For more information about the Women of the ROC visit its website.

Women of the ROC will be at the farmers market at 3 p.m. Wednesday, August 24th. The farmers market is located at 902 7th avenue.