New Roots for Refugees is a Kansas City training program that equips refugees who have been resettled in Missouri and Kansas with farming skills. Within a 9-acre plot of land just outside downtown Kansas City, trainees learn about farming in a different climate and pick up the tools necessary to set up a business. 

I started documenting its participants as the season began in early spring, just as coronavirus restrictions were easing and vaccinations were ramping up. It was a tough winter spent indoors and farmers were relieved to spend time at the farm again.

Daniel, a first-year trainee, listens during his weekly plot check-ins with program manager Semra Fetahovic. He was an English major back in Myanmar and now also acts as a translator for his co-participants.

Ngun Tial, a fourth-year farmer on her last year of the program, readies her plot during early spring. She says news of the unrest in Myanmar, where her mother and daughter sill live, keep her up at night.

Top: Visual aids help organizers communicate with the trainees who speak a variety of languages, from Burmese to Swahili.

Top: Farmers are given a number of tools and equipment to get them started. The program covers all of the farming fees during the first year and slowly weans them off as they progress.

Enoch tenderly hugs his daughter during a visit to the farm. He shares a plot with his wife, Zing Te, and her nephew, Daniel. Tending to the farm is often a family affair. Relatives help out while children spend their afternoons running around.

While the US remains one of the largest refugee resettlement countries in the world, its cap has significantly decreased over the last decade, from 80,000 in 2011 to a mere 15,000 in 2021.

According to the UNHCR, refugees from Myanmar are the second largest group that the US welcomed in 2020. That same group makes up the largest proportion of participants in New Roots for Refugees. Almost all of them were in asylum somewhere else prior to arriving in the US, having spent years in other refugee camps in Asia. This project seeks to visualize the dignity with which they live in America.

Thian Za Mawi, a first-year farmer, harvests smaller-than-expected carrots as a result of overcrowding. A majority of the trainees have managed small gardens in their home countries but  nothing as big as their current plots. She is frustrated but says she'll keep it in mind for next year.

Produce is distributed to wholesale buyers and subscribers of the weekly farm share. The farmers are also trained to sell their goods at farmers' markets. Pictured here: Program staff members prepare each week's orders.

Moe Thu and Fom Chin with their children

Thian Za Mawi

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