Is there a clash of cultures in Sacramento and Fresno urban gardens set aside for refugees from a wide variety of ethnic groups? See the articles, “Clash of Cultures in Community gardens – Refugee Resettlement,” “Community gardens for immigrant groups can provide more than just familiar foods hard to find in the grocery store; they can be a balm for alienation,” and “Seeking Serenity in a Patch of California Land – NYTimes.com.”
A lot of individuals have seen the ravages of war. Sacramento, for example, has a sizable number of Iraqi refugees. Also American veterans, many low-income and unemployed with post-traumatic syndrome and depression from combat usually are not referred to vegetable gardening as therapy for stress. But some are being trained in small farming techniques to replace Sacramento area’s retiring farmers. See, “USDA Blog » Military Veterans: the Next Generation of Organic farmers.”
Some individuals feel there’s no need to separate ethnic groups into their traditional vegetable gardens like you’d put different religious groups in separate cemeteries. For example in Fresno, California, Hmong refugees from Laos garden by planting specific vegetables such as purple lemon grass, bitter melon and medicinal herbs along with other Hmong people. Usually women from the same ethnic groups garden together because they speak the same language and use the same vegetables and herbs as food staples or medicinally.
Urban gardens for different lower income ethnic groups
Urban gardening for refugees is one way of bringing some joy into the life of low-income people. So in Fresno, there’s the Hmong Village Community Garden. Gardening is one therapeutic way of beating depression, for example, for refugees who have little money and may not speak or read the language of their new country. It lets them eat food that’s familiar and use traditional herbs in folkloric medicine that often works better than prescription drugs for some.
One question is what happens when people who are not low income garden with others who are poor, when both groups are from the same country? Or what happens when one group is of a different religion but from the same home country and of similar income or educational levels? Does one group mentor or micromanage the other socioenconomic group?
Are the gardeners getting along and feeling happier with more food choices?
Fresno, California has seven urban gardens where people can plant food or herbal plants. But which is better, the community mixing what they plant, or separate ethnic gardens for each refugee group? The issue is to avoid a clash of cultures when refugees from one part of the world want to garden next to those from another part of the world that uses entirely different plants.
There’s an urban garden in Fresno for Slavic peoples, the Slavic Community Garden, where Ukrainian refugees plant their vegetables and fruits. Their food is entirely different from the vegetables and fruits used by Hmong from Laos. The Ukrainians plant black currants for jam, dill for pickles and soups, and medicinal calendula flowers from Ukrainian seeds. Many Ukrainians left Russia at a time when their religious beliefs were at odds with the former Soviet Union’s policies about religions.
Community health is the goal of urban gardens
If all the refugees had back yards suitable for planting vegetables and fruits, they wouldn’t need ethnic urban gardens, each for a specific ethnic group. But how many different ethnic groups of refugees are there in California? Many, and not all cities have room for a specific urban garden for certain ethnic groups of refugees.
Garden therapy is used for more than growing fresh foods. It’s also used to create a voice of resiliency and confidence, a sense of purpose as the gardeners age. Many are not employed, are elderly, and often isolated by language and poverty. Gardening may help give people enough physical activity to ward off depression that comes from sedentary isolation or the post-traumatic stress of being a refugee immigrant in families with little money and a lot of time on their hands. These people have to come up with money to pay insurance, rent, food bills, clothing, transportation, medical care co-payments, other bills.
The issue for some people is who pays for the separate urban gardens for each ethnic group? The government has a budget of about $171,000 a year for construction and maintenance of the community gardens and adjoining meeting spaces. Specifically, the taxpayer pays. And then the government delegates the money. Urban gardens in local areas of the state are made possible by the California Mental Health Services Act of 2004, which put a 1 percent tax on personal income of $1 million a year or more.
Why the topic is becoming controversial
The issue is urban gardens are classified as psychological therapy for mental health conditions. Spending state money this way has been controversial, with some advocates for those with mental illness arguing that gardens are an unaffordable frill in an era of diminishing resources, says the May 25, 2013 New York Times article by Patricia Leigh Brown, “Community Gardens Soothe Immigrants.”
The Sacramento Bee newspaper reprinted the article today, May 27, 2013. One issue is that between 1995 to 2008, the state cut $700 million a year in core mental health services like psychiatric facilities, according to the original NYTimes.com article, “Seeking Serenity in a Patch of California Land.”
Taxpayers are wondering why there has to be a separate urban garden for different ethnic groups? Why can’t the Slavs and Hmong garden together in an urban garden open to the entire community and learn about one another’s culture, since both would benefit by learning English and assimilating to some degree to get along in the new country? It’s back to the “why can’t we all get along” idea, when it comes to funding for separate urban gardens.
Some think it would be better if individual families had their personal gardening sections or plots to cultivate instead of having urban gardens for different ethnic groups because their food is so different. Are they worried about cross-pollinating the different plants from far-flung parts of the world? Didn’t these groups get together historically along the Silk Road mixing and matching ideas, trading plants and other products so that cultures of the past exchanged ideas and items?
The budget: How does urban gardening become mental health therapy?
Refugees shouldn’t be classified as mentally ill and garden therapy the treatment just because they are stressed in a new country, some say. It soon becomes a money problem. Some say that gardens are an unaffordable extra in an era of diminishing resources. From 1995 to 2008, the state cut $700 million a year in core mental health services like psychiatric facilities.
Another issue is why classify mental health services with gardening? It’s about food and feeding. It’s not always supposed to be classified under mental health or refugees feeling isolated as having mental health problems. Not everyone is in severe depression using gardening to work out of isolation by gardening with other people speaking the same language and of familiar ethnic backgrounds.
When it comes to spending for urban gardens, they’re not seen as recreation or education, but as therapy for mental health. And although gardens are used in mental hospitals to give patients an outlet to do physical activity and obtain food, gardening also is seasonal outdoors. Why are people who garden for health sometimes classified as mentally ill? Can it be to qualify for funding? And what’s the real issue — assimilation or more social activities and healthier foods?
Taxation may be an issue
The facts stand that a quarter of the tax proceeds that is designated for prevention, early intervention and innovative approaches to care finances a range of roughly 400 projects throughout the state. So now, gardening is classified under intervention in mental health issues. On the other hand, many refugee immigrants have no health insurance and don’t prefer to see psychologists for talk therapy, nor do they want prescription drugs for stress most of the time.
What they do find relaxing is gardening and planting food. If you’re not from the West, you don’t choose Western types of therapy. Eastern types of therapy are planting food for release of stress and isolation, especially planting food with others who speak your language. Gardening is more of a spiritual wellness that eases the emotions and relaxes people.
Gardening is a positive emotional experience as stress is channeled outwardly into weeding, digging, planting, and harvesting food to feed the family
Gardening with a familiar group of people is positive and to many feels healthy (unless you’re arguing with someone from that familiar group who’s putting you down). For example, there’s no word for mental illness among the Hmong.
There are words for physical symptoms. Some people enjoy singing as they garden, and others meditate, while some individuals enjoy speaking with a group of people of the same age and gender in their familiar language, preparing traditional foods. Gardening takes away the fear of not being able to make ends meet and it gives you the feeling that you have a familiar home.
In Fresno, four of the seven gardens are dedicated to Southeast Asians who farmed back home in their own country. The Fresno Center for New Americans, a nonprofit refugee organization established the Hmong garden two years ago. It feels safe to be there and to talk to others gardening with you. That’s the point. People in a new country with little money to buy food that usually looks unfamiliar want to be able to feel safe.
The Slavic, Punjabi, African-American, and Latino urban gardens in Fresno
Slavic family support services for Fresno Interdenominational Ministries, operates five of the gardens. Fresno has about 7,500 or so Russian-speaking evangelical Christians. If you’re coming from a country where mental health treatment is stigmatized or associated with the former Soviet system of being sent to some prison in Siberia, a garden is open space where people find something to join, to be attached to without a stigma that feels safe. For further information, see, “In California, Gardening for Mental Health.”
Fresno also has an ethnic garden called the Growing Hope garden in a Black and Latino neighborhood. What grows in that garden is different from what grows in the Hmong or the Slavic garden. There, tomatillos, cilantro, squash, and vegetables are grown. Since the area is far from a supermarket, and most people can’t pay extra to buy organic produce, they grow their own vegetables for food.
The Punjab peoples, particularly the Sikh ethnic group also has its own ethnic garden in Fresno. The produce grown there is what’s eaten in India. The new garden is known as the Punjabi Sikh Sarbat Bhala Community Garden. They grow fenugreek seeds and use a hand sickle called a datri and also mentor other gardeners in growing produce using tools familiar in N.W. India. Gardening not only provides fresh produce to those who can’t travel a long way to supermarkets which may not carry what they find familiar.
Many can’t afford to buy organic produce in a food market
Trying to locate ethnic food markets might take them across town and take the entire day to get to by public transportation. The basic reason people garden is to afford healthier foods. Additionally, people can socialize instead of sitting isolated at home not knowing where to find familiar food.
Then again, gardening for produce is affordable instead of filling up on whatever is affordable and close. The issue is what happens in the winter when plants go dormant — unless people also can, jar, or pickle their food before harvest time and put it away for the winter season? There’s also the issue of where to grow spices and herbs.