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A Vacant Lot Offers Refugees a Taste of Home in Phoenix

Mohamed Isaac prepares his area for planting this month. Photo by Joshua Lott for The New York Times.

A plan to revitalize a vacant lot in Phoenix has offered refugees a place to grow produce.

By Fernanda Santos
New York Times
November 26, 2012


PHOENIX — Hussein Al Hamka is going to farm his famous cucumbers on a 15-acre vacant lot in the heart of this city, where nearly half of all lots sit empty and unused.

If his piece of fertilized dirt had a price tag, it would cost much more than he could ever dream of affording; the lot is valued at $25 million, or at least it was before the housing market collapsed and it was left undeveloped. To survive, Mr. Hamka, 50, an Iraqi refugee three years into his life in the United States, grows and sells cucumbers just like the ones he ate in his home country.

On Friday, Fidele Komezusenge, 25, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, picked rocks from the loose soil in the raised beds next to Mr. Hamka’s. Mr. Komezusenge was planning to plant carrot and cabbage seeds, his first farming foray since arriving in the United States in June. Nearby, Safala Chhetri, 50, a refugee from Bhutan who arrived in 2009, wavered between planting spinach or kale, but then decided to give onions a second chance.

“I planted them on my backyard last year, but they didn’t do so great,” Ms. Chhetri said.

The refugees are accidental farmers in an unlikely urban field that is part of an ambitious plan to transform vacant land. The lot sits on one of the busiest corners of this expansive city, across from an English pub, near a light-rail stop and in sight of the glimmering high rises that punctuate downtown.

Read the complete article here.

1 comment

1 David Moffitt (@DollarSeed) { 12.05.12 at 10:45 am }

It’s people like this who are the reasons for why I send my seeds all over the US to help feed the needy. This year (2013 fiscal) I have already sent seeds to 15 different charity and non-charity groups to help feed the needy. I also send seeds to schools to help teach sustainable living practices. Visit my site, purchase some seeds, so I can continue in this philanthropic direction. We all need to do our part to make sure no one goes unfed.