Founded in 2007, the Refugee & Immigrant Fund (RIF), a Queens, New York-based non-profit, began as an orientation center, guiding newcomers to the U.S. through the labyrinthine asylum process and referring them to legal and psychological counseling. Founder and Director Maria Blacque-Belair, a social worker by trade, never expected that urban agriculture would become an …
This book review was written for The Refugee & Immigrant Fund in January 2015 and originally appeared on their blog, Growing Together. In recent years, the concept of living “Slow” has been gaining ground, in many ways a natural response to the ever increasing hyper-connectivity and competitiveness of our modern world. Slow food, slow travel, …
Interview I conducted for RIF with the Brooklyn Grange’s Alia Ornstein.
I’m wandering amidst a sea of hot peppers – Hungarian wax, serrano, golden cayenne – when Alia Ornstein waves me down from the opposite end of the farm, her tell-tale floppy farmer’s hat distinguishing her from the rest of the Brooklyn Grange staff and trainees. She’s just wrapped up a meeting with a Grange partner and can now spare a few minutes to speak with me before returning to the important work at hand – the beds that need tilling, the chickens that need feeding, the CSA shares that need bagging.
A former lawyer, she moves purposefully past the trellised cucumbers, a rake in her hand though I can just as easily picture a briefcase full of case notes and legal briefs. She shakes my hand and pulls a couple of chairs into the shade of the rooftop’s big generator…
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Piece written for the Refugee & Immigrant Fund (RIF) on a program participant, Denise, and her experiences as a refugee in New York.
Denise is a refugee and asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a nation crippled by colonialism, ransacked of its resources — first by the Belgians, then by its own inept rulers — and fraught with ongoing conflict. A spillover of violence from neighboring Rwanda has plagued the eastern portion of the country for two decades, and has given rise to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war; the area has been called “the worst place in the world to be a woman,” though men and children suffer, as well.
The emotional effects of the hardships one inevitably endures living in such a place are not immediately apparent in Denise who, diminutive and with an endearing smile, comes across as a sort of fairy godmother. I saw her eyes light up upon entering the greenhouse on her first day at the farm.
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Piece written for the Refugee & Immigrant Fund (RIF) this past April.
An unexpected cold front has coated the city in a fine slick of ice and powdery snow and bitter winds whip along the narrow streets of this corner of DUMBO in Brooklyn, stubborn winter seemingly unaware that it is nearly May. Temperatures have dipped into the 40’s, though with the wind blowing off the nearby East River it feels even colder — colder, certainly, than the tropical African climes most of our group is accustomed to.
Today is the first day of the 2014 growing season for RIF’s newest group of participants — refugees and asylum seekers rebuilding their lives in New York. Through RIF’s Urban Farm Project and in partnership with Brooklyn Grange, the world’s largest rooftop soil farm operating in Brooklyn and nearby Long Island City, Queens, they will spend the next six months learning the ins and outs of the city’s exploding urban agriculture scene. From…
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