Sarbah Bi and Abdikadir Chimwaga are refugees from separate countries who now share a peaceful life in Boise.
They met at Boise High School. He was 15 and from Somalia. She came from Myanmar. His English was a little better, but they managed and fell in love. They married in 2010.
Now they’re thriving in Global Gardens’ Farmer Entrepreneur Program, which provides a large plot for them to grow vegetables and gives training and marketing guidance. The program helps them and several other refugee families sell produce at Boise’s two farmers’ markets, the Boise Co-op, through Global Gardens’ community-supported agriculture programs, (CSAs) and to local restaurants.
The couple farms on city-owned land on South Pond Street. Along with chard, tomatoes, potatoes and other veggies popular with CSA members, they grow a few things found in their homelands.
Chimwaga points to green, leafy rows of water spinach and red, flowering Amaranth as examples. He said at home they cook dishes they love from both of their countries, like a long-grain rice dish Bi favors, and they give their recipes to customers.
“Everyone grows food in Africa, but the food is so different here,” he said.
That’s a common sentiment among growers, said Katie Painter, project coordinator for Global Gardens’ agriculture program. Some struggle with things like tomatoes that are hard to grow here and are in high demand with CSA members. Language can be an issue with respect to marketing produce and running a business.
“Abdikadir is one of our most successful growers because of his English,” Painter said.
Before coming into the Entrepreneur program, he worked for a year for another grower who’d received Global Gardens’ funds to hire trainees.
The City of Boise donates use of the Pond Street 4-acre parcel to Global Gardens, which is run by the Idaho Office for Refugees and gets support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are three full-time and two part-time staff members and volunteers who help with harvest and with marketing skills. The program started in 2004 with two community gardens. Two-and-a-half of the Pond Street acres are under full production by Abdikadir, Sarbah and a few other growers.
“They’re really happy to have this big space to spread out and grow things like corn and watermelon that need a lot of room,” she said. There also is a greenhouse, chicken coop, a building for washing and sorting produce and a walk-in cooler.
One of the growers is raising meat chickens to sell to Somali-Bantu refugees. There’s also a small demonstration garden for kids from a childcare program at one of Global Gardens CSA pickup locations.
More land will soon be available next door, Painter said, watching crews demolish two homes also owned by the city. Painter said there are several other donated plots around the city, totaling around 6 to 7 acres, and many partners provide financial support, such as Idaho Power, Rotary Club chapters and the Idaho Women’s Charitable Foundation.
In addition to the Farmer Entrepreneurial program, there are 300 families in the community garden program who receive a small chunk of land to grow food for themselves. Most plots are offered by churches or neighborhood groups; one is donated by the city. About nine families, like Bi and Chimwaga are growing for Global Gardens’ CSA. All of the growers have other jobs, Painter said.
Mamo Elias, a refugee from Somalia who’s been in Boise seven years, was selling okra, onions, carrots, kohlrabi and tomatoes from his booth at the Boise Farmer’s Market in July.
His five children help with the farming, and his wife Safiyah Abdi runs a booth at the Capital City Market.
“Boise has been very good for my family,” he s