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“We’re here at Global Greens farm,” Zachary Couture, the land and production supervisor at the Lutheran Services in Iowa’s Global Greens Program, said. “There's 20 beginning farmers out here who are scaling up, trying to start a living farming in Iowa.”
This is just one part of the larger Global Greens program, a program through Lutheran Services of Iowa that helps recommend former refugee farmers with the land as they build their lives in the U.S.
“We have 300 community gardeners, 20 beginning farmers, and 11 graduates and we support each of them in different capacities,” Couture said.
“I’m farming and work at Walmart,” Hakizimana Francois, a participant in the program, said. “This program means a lot to me.”
Francois and his wife are part of this program, learning new skills while he works his current job.
“She’s a big helper because right now she’s the one following this program and I’m helping her because I still keep my job,” Francois said.
Farming is a skill they already have, but this program helps them learn more about running a farm in America.
“It’s not just language barriers and cultural barriers,” Couture said.
Couture and other team members help them with things like technology, tools, business plans, and land rentals, too.
On a 12-acre leased lot down the road near Des Moines, Iowa, three program graduates grow a number of vegetables.
On this specific day, Couture was checking in to see what they needed to succeed. One of his team members, also from the East African country of Burundi where this group is from, helped translate.
“These farmers are very happy because they used to be in the Global Greens program for, I think, three years to five,” Firmin Ntakimazi said. “They are making some money to support the family.”
For them, land means opportunity.
“When they start talking about their families, their connection with their ancestors, they remember being on a farm with their grandparents and parents before they had to flee the country,” Couture said.
Couture said it’s a win-win situation all around. The program provides more local food to communities, gives refugees the chance to use their growing skills, and diversifies the types of vegetables being grown.
“It’s around a million pounds of vegetables a year between the community gardens and the graduates and the folks here,” Couture said.
“Next step, I wish to have to own big land so I can produce more food,” Francois said.