A Vacant Lot Offers Refugees a Taste of Home in Phoenix
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.