On the 21 acres of grassy land that surround the barn-shaped Passionist Earth and Spirit Center, Joseph Kashamura is wearing red pants and black rubber boots. He’s watering intore, an eggplant native to Africa.
His day job is packing metals in boxes on Preston Highway. But every day when he’s done with work, he comes to the center off Newburg Road to work on an acre-sized patch of land.
“I feel so happy to be here with other friends in the evening,” he says.
For some refugees, feeling at home in a new country can be difficult. But a group of refugees, mostly from from the small African country of Burundi, is adjusting to life in Louisville with the help of a new farm in the Highlands neighborhood. These growers are using skills from their native country to find solace, reconnect to home and build an economic future.
Kashamura is proud to say, at the time of the interview, that he’s lived in Louisville for two years, three weeks and five days. He lives here with his wife, five sons and daughter. He’s from the Democratic Republic of Congo and was also in a refugee camp in neighboring Burundi.
A Sense of Belonging
In Burundi, more than 90 percent of the landlocked African country’s labor force works in agriculture. But there aren’t many places in Louisville that Burundian refugees can put their farming skills to use. That’s why the growers last year organized around founding a farm. This year is their first growing season.
“The majority are from Burundi but everyone is welcome,” says Victor Eddie. He’s the executive director of the nonprofit New Hope, Inc. International, and the farm is a part of the organization. Right now there are 14 growers. Most of them have day jobs.
“They were farmers in their home country and this is a practice they connect with very well,” says Laura Stevens, program director of Common Earth Gardens. The organization, a part of Catholic Charities, helps refugees with farming skills acclimate to their new home as well as prepare for entrepreneurial endeavors in agriculture.
“That’s something that they want to be able to continue to do here,” says Stevens. “They have a tremendous skill set that they’re able to put to use here.”
Finding an area where the growers would feel welcomed was just as important as finding soil to cultivate crops, says Rachel Brunner, program manager of Common Earth Gardens. She says the growers wanted “a space that feels like and belongs to them.”
“And having that feeling of belonging and being known that they succeeded at something in this new country where everything is foreign,” says Brunner.
Feels Like Home
It may be by design that the farm is on the land of Passionist Earth and Spirit Center. The land and the monastery have been owned by the Passionists, a Catholic religious order, since the 1800s. And the land was farmed by the group to support themselves.
The center transforms the relationship between people and the planet, says Executive Director Kyle Kramer. That includes teaching about meditation and spirituality in relation to the environment.
“It was a natural step to partner with Catholic Charities and the Burundian community,” he says.
This small corner of Louisville may not only offer a chance to make extra cash in the future, it also helps growers feed their families and reminds them of home, says Benedicto Ndayavugwa.
“When I come here, the feeling of the nature, the sound of the birds, the trees — that brings me a feeling of being home,” he says.
Part of that includes growing food native to Burundi. But finding seeds from the country isn’t easy. Godfrey Baranyizigiye says he and the growers have driven to Tennessee and North Carolina just to buy seeds.
“When you are looking for something you try to find out so we were calling friends,” says Baranyizigiye. “One person volunteered to drive to get the seeds. We need them. We’re used to them and they’re good for our health.”
Fabiyora Nyandwi has been in Louisville for more than nine years. She has five sons and three daughters and lives with her husband. She’s part of the cleaning staff at Bellarmine University.
“As we have a big family we need more food for our family,” she says. “We realize if we have our farm we can produce more and be able to support our family more.”
Today, the harvesters are enjoying their first growing season. Tomorrow, growers like Joseph Kashamura want to expand the one-acre garden.
“What we want to do — we don’t want to stop here,” he says. “We want to add some animals like goats, chicken, or we can have some cows if possible.”
The growers hope that what they plant today will be a step toward their future and keep them connected to their roots.